The Risks of Working Remote by Brian H. Merriam
Understand the Risks of Supporting Remote Employees
Before the COVID-19 pandemic remote working from home was, of course, quite rare… after all, the workplace is where workers belong, right? Well, of course after March of 2020 the rules of employment work patterns changed: employers wanted their staff to continue to do what needed to be done, but to do it from the isolated safety of their own homes, if computer connections and video conferencing allowed for such. Then employers found certain costs could be reduced and employees found eliminating commuting was an attractive alternative to working out of the company location.
Increased Employer Risks
Today, many employees enjoy the flexibility of maintaining remote work alternatives. But there are now increased risks for employers, not the least of which is the risk of employee injuries that stem from an environment over which the employer has little knowledge and virtually no control. Can the employer expect litigation to stem from an unsafe workplace and even Workers Compensation claims? Absolutely. If the employer allows, (or especially if they mandate) remote working, then the employer bears the responsibility for such risks.
Additionally, lawsuits have also been increasing to force employers to pay for increased costs that employees have allegedly incurred because of increased costs of electricity and Internet use, and in at least one suit, where the employee alleged they couldn’t rent out their house since they were required to work from home.
Steps to Eliminate Risks
What steps should be implemented to reduce or eliminate the risk of remote-working employees? The only way to eliminate the exposure is to forbid it; that is, a line in the employee handbook or even a company-wide email that specifically bars working from home is the only sure way to eliminate the risks that stem from remote working. If you do allow/require remote working, it is essential that written protocols be provided to your staff. Included should be the following:
- Written protocols relating to hours of working from home and hybrid work arrangements
- Educate your employees to create a safe work environment including ergonomics
- Provide a checklist of various distractions and hazards to avoid
- Ideally, ask employees to sign an acknowledgment of their agreement to adhere to your written protocols
- Notify your Workers Compensation carrier to know the approximate number of employees who are working remotely and if they work in other states than your ministry’s state of domicile
According to a survey taken by Chubb Insurance Company in 2020, only 43% of remote workers actually have a home office, 20% worked from their living room, 17% from their bedroom, and 9% other. Do you suppose there are hazards that exist in these spaces for which your employees may hold you liable? Count on it!
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