Working From Home during COVID-19: Reasoned Guidance for Texas Injury Benefit Plans
November 23, 2021
By Staci Cassidy , J.D., senior vice president of PartnerSource
COVID-19 has made working remotely a necessity in many industries. For example, many employers have issued computers to at-home workers, but have likely exercised little-to-no control over the employee’s at-home work environment. Does this recent uptick in the number of employees working from home expand the circumstances under which an injury may be considered “work-related” and eligible for occupational injury benefits?
Let’s start with the premise that a system for addressing workplace injury holds an employer responsible for injuries sustained in an environment over which the employer has control. After all, if the employer makes the rules for when, where and how a job is performed, then the employer should be responsible for the injuries resulting from those directives. Take the example of when an employee is commuting. An injury occurring while an employee is traveling to or from work is not usually an occupational injury. However, an injury occurring while an employee is traveling a route directed by the employer, or while traveling in a vehicle provided by the employer, is usually an occupational injury.
The distinction lies in the control that the employer exercises over the activity the employee is performing or over the equipment the employee is using at the time of injury. Regardless if the employee’s path for economic recovery is through tort, an injury benefit plan or statutory workers’ comp benefits, occupational coverage or liability usually follows an employer’s occupational control.
So, has the rise in the number of people who work from home expanded the circumstances under which an injury is considered work-related? Probably not. The injury must still originate from a hazard or risk of employment. In a work-from-home scenario, the injuries most likely to be covered under Texas injury benefit plans are those that originate from equipment provided by the employer necessary for the employee to conduct business—not from an employee’s work-from-home set-up, over which the employer has no control.
What about employers that issue equipment beyond the basics of a computer to at-home workers? For example, if working from home becomes more permanent, should an employer require a certain type of desk or ergonomic chair? If so, should the employer furnish this equipment? How about the hours an employee works? Should there be software that ensures an employee takes required breaks? Should an employer provide headsets for use during long or frequent calls? Equipment like this is something that employers have available in the office – but not everyone has the same set-up at home to accommodate the same type of equipment.
If you have questions about the injury benefit or liability impacts of providing additional tools or equipment to help employees further adjust to their new, homier work environments, contact your PartnerSource Team Leader today.