Over two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began and many employees switched from coming into a workplace to working at home, Ohio has amended the workers’ compensation laws to reflect the current work environment. Effective Sep. 21, 2022, this new legislation expands the definition of a compensable workplace injury to include some injuries sustained within the employee’s home, if certain criteria are met.
What counts as a workplace injury?
The determination for whether an injury is work-related (regardless of the location) includes evaluating whether the injury took place in the course of and arising out of the employee’s employment. Now, according to the latest workers’ compensation laws, an employee who performs their work duties in their home that is separate from the employer’s worksite must prove all of the following criteria:
- The employee’s injury or disability arises out of the employee’s employment;
- The employee’s injury or disability was caused by a special hazard of the employee’s employment activity; and,
- The employee’s injury or disability is sustained in the course of an activity undertaken by the employee for the exclusive benefit of the employer.
Likely, determinations of whether an injury taking place at an employee’s home is compensable will be very fact-specific. Factors such as whether the employee is using employer-issued equipment and how much control the employer exerts over the employee’s work environment may be key considerations. Merely sitting in an un-ergonomic chair using a laptop may not rise to the level of a “special hazard.” Given how unique each employee’s home work environment may be, it is challenging to predict how a court will evaluate each particular set of facts.
For employers, determining whether an injury occurred during the course of work activities may be challenging for remote workers. There are usually no witnesses, and the employer may run into resistance from the employee if the employer requests to conduct an on-site investigation.
Key takeaways from updated workers’ compensation laws
Employers should take steps to ensure their employees are safe, regardless of where they perform their work. To prevent workers’ compensation injuries for employees working at home, good practices include:
- Implementing a remote working policy which includes a requirement that employees follow applicable safe work practices and rules, and reviewing it with all remote employees;
- Creating fixed work hours and break times to establish the exact times in which employees should be working;
- Clearly define an employee’s scope of work;
- Provide employees with ergonomic equipment such as chairs, laptop stands, keyboards, etc.;
- Prepare a standard for home work environments to create a dedicated work space to limit the parts of the home included in the definition of a work area; and,
- Routinely communicate with remote employees to determine their needs and what may assist them in creating a safe work environment.