Are you interested in telework but have questions about how a work from home program could be successfully implemented at your company? Choose Your Way Bellevue works with telework expert Rick Albiero, CEO of the Telecomuting Advantage Group (TAG). Submit your telework questions to our expert here, or read on for previous Q&A’s requested publicly on the Telework Bellevue Ask an Expert page. And be sure to check back for more telework questions and answers from our expert. The Q&A’s will be featured on the Choose Your Way Bellevue blog on a monthly basis.
Question 1: What are the risks associated with telecommuting in terms of liability, workers’ compensation, illegal activities in the household, etc.?
Rick’s Reply: A quick disclaimer. Telecomuting Advantage Group (TAG) is not a legal firm. You should confirm any information with a Labor attorney. This response is based on TAG’s experiences and information obtained from our Labor attorneys. A link has been included below that provides information about OSHA’s removal of home-based workers from OSHA standards. In effect, the employee becomes responsible for the safety of their work location, cleaning up spills, toys, etc. As an employer it is still important that you provide both home-office safety and ergonomic guidelines and include a location in your telework agreement that indicates that they have read and understand them. There are exceptions, such as employees who work with hazardous materials, in which the employer may still be held liable. Third-parties, whether co-workers, customers or suppliers are not allowed to conduct meetings at a teleworker’s home-location as the liability laws are not the same as those for the teleworker. Workers’ Comp issues have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. As you most likely do not have consistent visibility of how and where the employee is working, you cannot ensure that they are following the ergonomic guidelines. Again, the policy should state that they must have a suitable telework site and follow the ergonomic guidelines, but if an employee disregards these and files a complaint for something like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome it is up to the employer to determine how to proceed. This is true for any Worker’s Comp issue that may have occurred in the workplace as a result of conducting everyday work. If an employee is participating in illegal activities not associated with the employer while working from home the employer is not responsible. If an employee is using their employer’s data-files, personal information or other employer data the employer will have to show that they put sufficient safeguards in place, possibly including language in the policy, sufficient data access security, password protections, an office or filing cabinet that can be locked or other measures to allow a teleworker to handle data safely. Tracking data access via a remote terminal server or software such as GoToMyPC will allow eDiscovery tracking. Here is a link to the OSHA ruling: www.computerworld.com/s/article/40989/Telecommuters_Exempt_From_OSHA_Rules.