The Downside of Telecommuting – Employer Liabilities

Since 2009, U.S. workers have been the victims of huge layoffs, with businesses having to cut back expenses such as transportation, utilities and office space. Working from home is an increasingly popular trend for many people, from new moms to those right at the top of their fields. In addition to its flexibility and comfort, employers also see it as a cost-efficient way to cut their overhead expenses. However, there are certain considerations which may be cause for alarm when hiring telecommuting employees.

Lack of Health and Safety

When an employer sets up their company’s own on-site premises, they are mandated to follow the correct health and safety standards for their workers. This includes proper air quality and ventilation, and keeping the work station free from obstacles. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes that employees who work from home may very well be deficient when it comes to ensuring their own health and safety.

The Responsibility of the Employer

While OSHA bars inspection of a worker’s home, they do say that employers have liability for at-home work sites if hazards are involved with materials or equipment required to be used by the employee (such as at-home manufacturing). A complaint or civil lawsuit could also be filed against the employer if an injury occurs while working at home. In order to assess proper responsibility, an employer should make it clear ahead of time whether the Internet connection and equipment used in the home office is the sole responsibility and property of the employer or employee.

Americans with Disabilities Act

Telecommuting positions from home may also intersect with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This act protects the home worker and allows them the chance to seek more comfortable work at home surroundings. The ADA was enacted to protect qualified employees (those who can perform the essential job functions) with disabilities from employer discrimination. The employer must make reasonable accommodations, in order that a person who is disabled can perform essential functions required by his work.

deskIs There a Limit to Employer Liability?

Bad things can definitely occur at home when an office worker is telecommuting. If they decide to take a break for lunch and fall down the stairs going to make a sandwich the employer will most likely not be responsible for the injury. To ensure that the proper rules and regulations are being followed for telecommuters, it’s in the best interest of the employer to create an at-home book of policies and guidelines that state where their responsibilities may fall.

Different States, Different Laws

Workers compensation is also state specific, and what may be covered in South Carolina could fail to be covered in the state of Wisconsin. There are also no clear answers when it comes to this type of injury or illness, therefore an employer policy manual could prevent any future confusion for both the worker and your company. Included in your documentation should be both the responsibility, and the hours workers are authorized to perform work each day.

The outcome of having a workers compensation lawsuit filed by your telecommuting employee includes many factors. In order to avoid murky waters and keep them clear and precise, you want to have the proper rules and regulation in place beforehand. These should also stipulate whether they are allowed to receive overtime compensation for work that is performed after normal working hours. In addition, non-exempt employees who work from home should also be required to keep accurate records with an electric or Internet logging system that records the time that they punch in and out for the day.

Holly Chavez is a freelance writer and former industrial engineer who often telecommutes to avoid heavy traffic and provide cleaner air. Working at home can be a blessing, and from her experience she would have to agree that it is always best to have clear, written rules and regulations from your employer about what is expected from you when you are working at home.

Photo Source: © Maksim Kostenko –