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Don’t get tripped up by remote-worker injuries

When a remote worker reports an injury or illness, the worst thing HR can do is automatically dismiss it.
By: | May 7, 2020 • 2 min read

According to a recent Gallup Poll, 43% of U.S. employees work remotely at least some of the time. As more HR professionals design policies that impact the way those individuals work and are managed, one factor is often overlooked: work-related injuries or illnesses.

Consider a remote worker who is carrying a box of work documents from his car to his home office. On his way, he slips on a patch of ice, falls and breaks his leg. Is his injury recordable under OSHA regulations?

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“This is very fact-sensitive,” says Melissa Gonzalez Boyce, legal editor of Xpert HR, which provides tools, resources and solutions for the federal, state and municipal levels.

As the percentage of remote or gig workers rises, it’s important for HR to understand what’s recordable and what isn’t. According to OSHA regulations, Gonzalez Boyce says, a two-part test must be satisfied. First, an injury or illness must result in a death, days away from work, restricted work or a job transfer, and also a workplace condition must have either contributed to or caused an injury or illness.

In the case of the remote worker who slipped on the ice, Gonzalez Boyce says, the ice outside his home is part of the general home setting, not part of the workplace, and doesn’t have to be recorded.

OSHA also doesn’t hold employers responsible for ensuring a safe home environment. Still, it’s important to establish clear work expectations. Consider an onsite employee who voluntarily takes work home. If injured at home after work hours, the injury may not need to be recorded, says Gonzalez Boyce.

But whenever a remote worker reports an injury or illness, the worst thing HR can do is automatically dismiss it.

“Do a deep analysis,” she says. Ask questions.  What equipment were you using when the injury occurred? What part of your home were you in? What kind of medical treatment was received? Also, request medical records or doctor notes that the employee feels comfortable disclosing and, whether light duty, restricted work or a transfer to another job function is required.

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While Gonzalez Boyce is unaware of official tallies of injuries or illnesses experienced by remote workers, she says she wouldn’t be surprised if such stats start being tracked, as more people work from home.

“It comes down to common sense and communication,” she says, adding that remote employees need to feel comfortable contacting HR after such incidents arise.  “Understand your rights and responsibilities under OSHA. Unfortunately, there are a lot of variables—so many fuzzy lines.”

Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.

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