Workplace Safety Obligations for Work-at-Home Arrangements
Workplace safety always matters, regardless if people are working on a construction site, a warehouse, an office, or are working remotely from a home office. Even before the coronavirus pandemic overtook the world in 2020, remote workers represented a significant part of the workforce and that number had been expected to steadily continue trending upward. But as the pandemic carried on and more companies started to see the benefits of work-from-home arrangements and decided to make them permanent, more people will likely end up working remotely than initially predicted.
While offices might not seem like dangerous places to work, especially compared to places like construction sites and factories, they absolutely can have their own risks and dangers and it’s important that employers take reasonable steps to reduce those risks. For example, ergonomic hazards are one very common type of worker safety issue offices have. But in a traditional office setting, employers can easily observe the workplace to identify possible hazards and take appropriate steps to address them, such as by providing ergonomic chairs and workstations for employees. But what employee safety obligations do employers have when employees are working remotely?
In 2000, OSHA announced that companies who let employees work from home are responsible for federal safety and health violations at employee homes. And under OSHA’s General Duty Clause, employers are required to provide employees with a workplace that is free from recognized dangers that are likely to cause death or serious harm, regardless of where employees are working. But depending on the type of work being done, there may be very little that employers are actually required to do for people working remotely.
If a person is doing things like general administrative tasks or just about any other type of work that would be done in an office, employers have few obligations. For example, it’s a great idea to provide employees with information and resources they can use to create safe home offices for themselves. But beyond that, OSHA does not require employers to do anything like visit the homes of their employees to inspect their home offices and check for safety issues like workstations that don’t provide ergonomic support or power cables that can be tripped over. OSHA has also stated that they won’t inspect home offices or hold employers liable for conditions in home offices.
On the other hand, if a job is a home-based manufacturing operation, there can be more obligations for employers. Employers are liable for hazards related to equipment and materials used in the course of an employee’s job and any work-related processes they might use. If employers are required to keep records of work-related illnesses and injuries, they are also required to record those illnesses and injuries even if they happen at an employee’s home. In this type of situation, OSHA will respond if there are reports of their safety standards being violated, jeopardizing worker safety. If OSHA comes out to inspect a home work setting based on one of these complaints, their inspection would be limited to the work area, not the entire home.
Contact a Workplace Injury Lawyer
If you’re injured while working from home, it’s important to talk to a workplace injury lawyer as soon as possible because you might be eligible to collect workers compensation depending on how exactly you were injured. Laws surrounding this issue can be complicated so you need someone on your side who knows the law. At Goodwin & Scieszka, we’re highly experienced in handling a wide range of on-the-job injuries in the state of Michigan. Contact us today to find out how we can help with your case.
Image: iStock / ake1150sb