Working from Home Legally and Effectively
Author Name: TrainingABC
Posted: 07-16-2021 09:13 PM
Synopsis: Learn how to manage employees working from home legally and effectively.
The number of people working from home is already a huge figure – well over 26 million in the United States alone. With potential improvements in job satisfaction and productivity, savings from reduced office space, and the pressure from recent world events working from home continues its upward trend.
Employers now face great legal concerns and must take immediate action to ensure that working from home is done safely and within the law.
Legal Obligations for Employers
Over 180 federal labor laws define a myriad of employer responsibilities that are also applicable to work performed from home, including the:
- Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)
- Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Employee Privacy Law
- Workers Compensation
This program will cover select laws and regulations where additional interpretation to handle employees working from home needs to be emphasized.
OSHA provides a legal standard for safety. An injury or illness during work from home is only classified as work-related for OSHA if all the following are true:
- The injury or illness occurs while doing work for pay or compensation.
- Work performance is directly related to the injury or illness.
- The injury or illness is not caused by the normal home environment.
For example, if an employee hurts his or her back lifting a box of work documents at home, this injury is work-related for OSHA purposes. Should an employee twist an ankle tripping over loose carpeting while working from home, this is not a work-related injury for OSHA recording even when it happens during work hours. However, this type of injury may still be eligible for Workers Compensation.
FMLA leave obligations also do not change, but to calculate eligibility employers count employees at the site they report to, not their home.
How Employers Protect Employees
The OSHA General Duty Clause includes ergonomic hazards to consider, with states adding additional rules and regulations like proactive prevention of specific injury and disorder types. Each state has different standards to follow, so employers must always refer to their state standards as well as those by federal OSHA.
OSHA will not conduct inspections of employees’ home offices but claims for Workers Compensation while working from home are still legitimate. In certain states, employees can raise a tort claim if they can prove their employer intentionally caused injury or harm. OSHA will only inspect other home-based worksites, like home manufacturing operations, when they receive a complaint or a referral.
This does not change any OSHA obligations, nor the need to keep an OSHA log of work-related illnesses or injuries if not already exempt.
How Employers Can Comply
When working from home is offered, the employer must take steps to ensure their core legal obligations are fulfilled.
Before Working from Home Begins
Employers often have employees sign home working agreements containing expectations for employees covering safety, health, data security and working hours, including overtime rules. Existing contracts must change to reflect the new work location and insurance must be checked to ensure it covers home workers and equipment.
Employers must inform employees of the hazards they’re exposed to and install risk and hazard training that is specific to their employees’ work. To conduct a risk assessment of working from home an employer should consider those areas they have direct control over like providing safe and ergonomic work equipment and safe work procedures.
Extra care needs to be taken with increased risks to information security since sensitive information is being stored on devices out of company control. As standards differ from state to state, employees working from home must be trained on company protocol specific to their state’s requirements.
After Working from Home Begins
Although employers cannot control every aspect of the home environment, they must still investigate incidents, injuries, illnesses and near misses. Employers must ensure that all federal wage and hour laws are followed and must also adhere to individual state minimum paid rest period and expense reimbursement requirements.
Ending Working from Home Arrangements
When an employer or employee decides that working from home is no longer practical, existing work contracts must change to reflect the new working location at the office.
How Employees can Comply
Employees should confirm understanding of the policies for working from home, then assess and address any hazards that are under their control like slip, trip and fall hazards, emergency procedures and electrical hazards.
To lessen many avoidable injuries, employees may access health and safety training for the home using OSHA’s “Computer Workstations eTool” checklist” and guidelines from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) who supports OSHA compliance. These guidelines include adjusting light levels to reduce eye strain, promoting good posture, setting up ergonomically sound workstations and organizing computer tasks to allow breaks from screen usage.
If injured working from home, the employee must inform their employer in writing and make their Workers Compensation claim as soon as possible to receive compensation for lost wages and medical expenses.
How to Make Working from Home Successful
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say that 71% of U.S. adults suffer from poor mental health due to symptoms of stress. Although working from home can reduce stress and anxiety, it can also make things worse due to increased isolation and pressure to perform.
To ensure employees out of the office do not feel overlooked, keep them involved in office decisions and provide easy access and support services to recognize their achievements. Employers should also set performance measures and supervision that provides workers at home the same opportunities as their on-site colleagues.
Failure to adhere to the laws for working from home can result in OSHA fines, raised Workers Compensation insurance premiums and lawsuits. In 2020 an audio-visual company in Baltimore refused an employee request to work from home as reasonable accommodation for her disability. They fired her for related reasons and were found by the ADA to have discriminated against her due to her disability and their failure to accommodate her.
Even back in 2005, a $24 million settlement was granted when employees working from home were unlawfully refused overtime compensation.
The Benefits of Working from Home
Working from home can generate great results, such as a reduced need for office space, cutting overhead and business expenses. A wider pool of candidates for recruitment are drawn in by slashed commuting costs and greater flexibility. A 2019 study of U.S. workers found a 22% increase in employee happiness when working from home over the office. A whopping 74% were also less likely to leave their current employer when allowed to work from home.
Working from home is a fast-growing trend in the modern workplace that employers cannot afford to ignore. Companies who stay compliant with proper working from home policies provide a positive experience where employees can thrive. In the process your organization will save money, avoid legal complications, and inspire great performance from employees.
TrainingABC has two new training courses on legally and effectively working from home. Working from Home UK version and Working from Home USA version.