The COVID-19 pandemic forced employers to utilize the remote work option for their employees. While many thought remote work was temporary and would cease with the waning of the pandemic, that has not proven to be the case.
Many employers are now instituting permanent remote or hybrid work options for their workers due to the unexpected benefits – work schedule flexibility, access to a larger pool of potential job candidates, improved work-life balance, and business continuity during disasters.
However, employers must be aware that workers’ compensation liability risks still exist for employees who work remotely. Consider these tips while developing a permanent remote worker program for your organization.
Contact your WC Insurance Provider.
Check with your Workers’ Compensation provider to ensure employees working remotely are covered. Working remote has some unique risks to be considered. Make sure your organization is covered in the event of an injury. For example, members of the LHA WC Fund may not have coverage if the remote worker does not live in Louisiana and is working at home.
Have a written policy in place.
Clear policies for remote workers help clarify how work should be carried out. Consider creating an employee handbook specific for remote workers or inserting a section on remote work into your current handbook for employees. View a sample policy for remote workers here.
Be specific in your policies regarding breaks, safety procedures, expectations, work hours, and more. Have remote workers sign an acknowledgment document and place it in their HR file. View a sample acknowledgment document here.
Ensure employees understand that remote work is at the discretion of the employer and the privilege can be revoked at any time. If this occurs, the employee may be required to return to work in the office.
Set employees up for success.
Remote workers need to understand the expectations for working remotely. Work with employees to develop clear goals, work standards, deliverables expected, and deadlines. Set up a performance review schedule to ensure they are on track and discuss any concerns. Ensure employees know how to request time off and sick time as needed. Establish a process for keeping track of hours worked.
Ensure the home environment is safe for work.
Since the home office is an extension of your office, make sure that it is a safe work environment. Employees who will be working remotely from home should understand your organization’s policies for remote workers and how to maintain a safe work environment. Inspect the home office space to inspect the safety and ergonomic positioning of office furniture, adequacy of lighting, presence of hazards such as extension cords and overloaded outlets. Take a photo of the workspace for the HR file. Consider re-inspection of the workspace regularly to ensure continued compliance.
Document current home owner’s policy.
Keep documentation on file that the remote worker has a current home owner’s policy in effect. In the event of damage to the home, employers should ensure that the property and home will be covered.
Best practices for any remote worker is to have a designated office space within their home. Remote workers should be required to have a designated, private work area where the door can be closed to maintain privacy and reduce distractions. This also ensures privacy, the confidentiality of business information, and productivity.
Remote workers also need to have everything they need to do their job successfully. Employers may need to provide items to help them such as computers, printers, headphones, a phone, and a shredder.
Cybercriminals have taken advantage of healthcare’s swift transition to the remote work environment amid the pandemic.
It is important to train employees on cybersecurity issues and to prevent compromise of their computer system. Ensure IT professionals have measures in place to protect your network and employee computers. Establish a process for employees to access technical support easily when they need help. Your remote worker policies and employee training should also restrict employees from using their work computers for anything other than company work.
HIPAA Privacy and Security
If remote workers are dealing with any type of patient information, it is important to consider HIPAA privacy and security. All employees should have training on HIPAA privacy and security documented in their education file.
Remote workers need to be encouraged, if not required, to maintain a designated, private workspace where a door can be closed to protect the privacy of patient information from anyone else in the household. Closing the door can help secure information from being accessed over a computer and keep information discussed over the phone from the earshot of others.
Consider providing remote workers with paper shredders if paper containing patient information might be printed and need to be discarded. Educate remote workers to log off their computer when they are not in front of it. Family members should not be allowed to access the business computer for personal use.
Develop a process of regular communication with employees who work remotely. A regular communication process can help employees stay on track and focused. Regular communication with others will also help employees feel part of a team and less isolated. Consider video conference calls individually or with your team regularly to discuss projects, deadlines or just to have a casual “coffee break” meeting.
Use caution with assigning remote work tasks.
With remote work, there may be some functions that aren’t available to employees such as the mailroom to send out documents or packages, copy machines, etc. Educate managers on using caution and discretion when requesting a remote worker go to the post office or the copy shop. Liability exposure will be present in these situations as the employee drives and completes functions outside the home office workspace.