There was a recent article in the Insurance Journal, about a tragic shooting in which a young child shot itself after finding a loaded pistol in the home where the child's family was visiting. One aspect of the resulting lawsuits is that the employer of the home’s owner was sued for the failure to ensure a safe work environment. The employer happens to be an insurance agency.
Regardless of the merit of this specific suit, the risk exposure is real and huge given how large the work-at-home population has become and will likely remain. What responsibilities do employers have to ensure their virtual employees are working in a safe environment? This point goes beyond offering safety tips. It extends to verifying that the remote workplace is safe. It also does not matter if a lawsuit has no basis because an employer loses as soon as it is sued.
What steps have you taken to verify that your employees' workplaces, i.e. your employees' homes, are safe? What rules have you implemented? In a more reasonable context, what if office supplies are delivered to an employee’s house and the delivery person is injured? What if they suffer a dog bite?
Not only is it a liability issue, but it is also a workers' compensation issue. What verifications have been put into place to determine if a work environment is safe and meets workplace safety requirements? Have you toured the homes where your employees work to verify that the lighting, seating, desk, and so forth meet the required ergonomic standards? Additionally, what have you done to verify that their at-home workplace meets safety standards?
Taking it a step further, a labor standard exposure also exists relative to verifying that employees are only working within the allowed number and prescribed hours. Do you have stated rules and procedures, along with appropriate verifications, to ensure your employees are only working within the allowed hours?
Data suggests that in order to fill many jobs, an employer must now pay a premium wage if they insist employees work onsite versus paying less for the luxury of working from home. Are the savings and happier employees worth the risk?
Specific to insurance agencies and based on what I have observed, E&O exposures are definitely higher in a work from home environment. The most specific exposure is that remote training is a pipe dream. The training of new employees is not as successful when they are alone in their homes trying to learn about the industry. Jobs in the insurance industry are complex and all the important nuances that cannot effectively be articulated in a training manual require sitting side-by-side with someone to learn the agency's management system, policies, how to deal with producers, how to deal with clients and so forth. Another way of putting it is that we are still in an extremely analogue world. Attempting to train digitally does not yet work.
These questions and realities are not only applicable to agency owners but to all of your commercial clients too. You can help them protect themselves by asking these kinds of questions. Every employer must determine how far they want to "invade" their employees' homes or whether the reality, for them, is to insist everyone come back to the office.
NOTE: The information provided herein is intended for educational and informational purposes only and it represents only the views of the authors. It is not a recommendation that a particular course of action be followed. Burand & Associates, LLC and Chris Burand assume, and will have, no responsibility for liability or damage which may result from the use of any of this information.
None of the materials in this article should be construed as offering legal advice, and the specific advice of legal counsel is recommended before acting on any matter discussed in this article. Regulated individuals/entities should also ensure that they comply with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations.