The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is forcing members of the claim management team to face new challenges. This goes beyond dealing with work injuries related to this new infectious disease. These challenges include dealing with the changing American workforce as it transitions into a home office setting. This adjustment creates an opportunity to address how claims are handled in an effective and efficient manner.
American Workforce Transitions to the Home Office
Over the last decade, there has been a slow transition of Americans working in a home office. In 2000, less than 3% of the American workforce operated out of a home office. The number of people working in a home environment has been slow to catch on as employers have concerns about productivity, having the proper technology, and holding employees accountable for their work product. By 2019, only 9 million Americans were working at home – about 6% of the domestic labor market.
Since the early months of 2020, the number of Americans working at home has dramatically increased. While it is unclear what percentage of the labor market is now working at home, experts predict that even assuming COVID-19 concerns are reduced via a vaccine, or better testing protocols, by the end of 2021, 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home at some point in their typical work week.
Addressing Continued Concerns of COVID-19 in the Home Office
The fact that more people are working at home does not lower the concerns employees will make COVID-19 related workers' compensation claims. When addressing these issues, members of the claim management team will need to be diligent in their claim investigation and identifying instances of possible exposure. When addressing these matters, the following issues should be reviewed with caution:
Identify possible legal presumptions and how they apply: Several states have amended their workers' compensation laws to include rebuttable presumptions for certain categories of employees. These issues should be addressed with care and ensure the employee provides the proper documentation, and met the defined criteria;
Apply the legal standard for all other cases: Most state workers' compensation laws require that the injury or workplace exposure (1) arise out of; are (2) in the course and scope of employment. Absent a legal presumption, the employee carries the burden of proof (review your state laws as many states have presumed Covid-19 claims are compensable); and
Investigate areas of possible exposure: Claim handlers need to hone their investigative skills and become almost a COVID-19 “contact tracer.” Questions should be asked of someone seeking workers' compensation benefits such as where they go shopping, attendance at social gatherings, and other activities.
Proactive Employment Practices in the COVID-19 Era
Employers can be proactive and should be encouraged to establish reasonable employment practices in the brave new COVID-19 workplace. Taking simple steps can boost morale among employees and reduce the number of workers' compensation claims.
Permit employees to work from a home office where it is practical, and the employee has a demonstrated ability to maintain a high level of productivity. Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter recognized this when he stated, “If our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen;” and
Ensure employees who are working in a home office environment are aware of proper ergonomics. When possible, equip those employees with desk, proper office chairs, and other reasonable workplace accessories.
All interested stakeholders must also ensure that workplace retaliation for demanding a safe workplace, or reporting work injuries is not tolerated.
In some work settings, this is not possible. Current high-risk occupations include those in the meatpacking industry, long-term care facilities, and medical professionals. Employers should properly train their employees on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and make sure it is provided upon request. Employers can also evaluate workplace settings to reduce tight, or confined workspaces, and avoid “chokepoints,” were people might congregate. They should also avoid re-circulating air in a workplace, and ensure fresh air is brought from the inside.
The current work environment will be changing, given the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers, workers' compensation carriers, and other interested stakeholders should use this as an opportunity to embrace change, and develop new protocols. This includes one that deals with the challenges of a home office workforce.
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Disclaimer: WorkersCompensation.com publishes independently generated writings from a variety of workers' compensation industry stakeholders. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of WorkersCompensation.com.