How responsible are employers for the safety of remote workers?

    Let's explore six situations where your employer could be responsible for your safety while you work from home.

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    When most people think about workplace safety, they envision incidents in the office. However, one of the main lessons we’ve learned from the recent health crisis is that remote work is now a permanent part of our economy. 

    So, shouldn’t the conversation around employee safety when working from home become a more prevalent topic too?

    Most people didn’t think about it as much before the pandemic, but employers are responsible for ensuring your safety as you conduct work-related tasks from home. Although your employer isn’t 100% responsible for your safety at home at all times, they can be held accountable in some capacity. 

    Let’s explore six situations where your employer could be responsible for your safety while you work from home.

    Home office

    One of the first things we do when granted the opportunity to work from home is set up an at-home office or workspace. Your home office should meet the health and safety standards implemented in an office building, and your employer should help. 

    For instance, employers should do their part ensuring ergonomics are adequately addressed for their remote workers, like providing appropriate office furniture, including a sturdy desk, comfortable chair, and any other accessories that aid a safe workspace.  

    Ultimately, your employer is liable for helping you create a safe at-home office. 

    Physical health and safety 

    Employers are also responsible for their remote employees’ physical health and safety. Just as an employer would address workplace hazards and safety concerns in the office to help their employees avoid physical injuries, those same rules apply to home offices

    Employers should be concerned with:

    • Indoor air quality, ventilation, and adequate lighting 
    • Creating a healthy workspace environment indoors 
    • The proper use of technology, tools, and machinery at home 
    • The accessibility of emergency exit routes, fire alarms, and first aid kits 
    • Ensuring their remote employees’ workspaces are free of trip or slip and fall hazards 

    At the end of the day, physical health and safety are just as much your employer’s responsibilities as if you were in the office. 

    Mental health 

    A huge part of keeping employees safe is caring for their mental health. Remote workers face unique mental health challenges, including isolation, increased anxiety, bouts of depression, and burnout because they don’t know how to unplug. Unfortunately, not all employers will support the mental health of their remote employees, but the wise ones will. 

    If your employer provided mental health services while you worked in-office, those resources could also extend to your home office. Even if mental health services aren’t a part of the deal, your employer should, at the least, ensure there is someone an employee can reach out to for help with or a conversation about mental health concerns. 

    Work-related travel 

    Working from home doesn’t exclude you from participating in work-related travel. If your employer asks you to travel out of state, out of the country, or even simply out of your house, their responsible for keeping you safe during this time. 

    Your employer’s work-related travel safety responsibilities likely include ensuring:

    • Work vehicles are properly registered and insured should they provide you with one
    • Work vehicles are in excellent condition  
    • Weather, route, and so forth are safe for travel
    • Proper housing should employees be required to stay in a location overnight 
    • Airline tickets and other expenses are taken care of 
    • Security measures are in place wherever you’re being asked to travel to

    All in all, your employer is responsible for ensuring the main components of your work-related travel are as safe as they can be. 

    Environmental 

    What about environmental safety regarding employees? Is an employer responsible for establishing environmental safety standards in home offices? The short answer is to some extent. 

    For instance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration details ventilation and air quality standards that your employer is responsible for maintaining in an in-office setting. With that being said, employers aren’t required to ensure your home office adheres to any ventilation and air quality standards. But they are legally required to provide a safe workplace. 

    Your indoor air supply can be a lot more polluted than that outdoors, and so, working from home can cause air quality-related illnesses that your employer may be responsible for helping you treat should you fall ill. 

    To continue the indoor air quality example, your home office may have dangerous indoor air quality because of asbestos wrapped around your pipes. Your employer may not be on the hook for replacing your pipes or completely remodeling your home. Still, If you become sick because of the asbestos while completing work-related tasks, your employer is more than likely responsible for your treatment. 

    After all, environmental-related health concerns can affect remote workers just as much as they can affect in-office employees. 

    Cyber safety

    Cybersecurity threats and cyberthieves are on the rise. So, your employer should also be responsible for your cyber safety when carrying out work-related tasks. 

    Whether it’s a secure portal for your work, cybersecurity tools provided and installed by your employer on your tech tools at home, a dedicated IT team for remote workers, or all of the above, your employer should be doing all they can to ensure their work from home employees have a safe space to conduct their job-related responsibilities online. 

    Ultimately, cyber safety isn’t solely the responsibility of an employer, but they’re more likely than not invested in ensuring their at-home employees’ work is heavily protected from online threats. 

    Conclusion

    The conversation around how responsible employers are for the safety of their remote workers will continue to evolve. The above are only some of the situations in which your employer is likely responsible for your safety if you’re working from home. Be sure to explore these and other safety situations in more depth to ensure you’re well-aware of what your employer is responsible for and what you’re responsible for when it comes to your remote workplace safety.

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