New Ohio workers' compensation law for at-home work-related injuries
A recent survey found there is a 115% increase in employees working from home in the last 10 years. Full-time telecommuters in Ohio comprise almost 4% of the total workforce. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers transitioned from an office environment to an at-home work environment. With this many employees working from home, work-related injuries occuring at home are becoming more common.
Criteria for at-home work-related injury
Ohio’s Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law a revision of Revised Code Section 4123.01(C) (4) that became effective on September 23, 2022, requiring all of the following criteria for a compensable home work-related injury:
- 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.
- 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.
Based upon the change in law, the work-related at-home injury must occur while performing a job related activity during work hours and the injury must be related to a special hazard of employment to be compensable under the workers’ compensation system of Ohio. A “special hazard” has been defined by the courts as a “risk, either distinctive in nature or qualitatively greater than the risk common to the public.”
Determining whether an injury at home is work-related
The question is, at the time of the injury, was the employee performing a task that benefitted the employer and was there a special hazard of employment that caused the injury? If the employee was performing a personal task such as opening their personal mail and cut their hand during work hours, that injury would not be a compensable workers’ compensation claim because the personal task did not benefit the employer. But if the employee was opening a box for the employer while working from home and cut their hand with a sharp cutting tool necessary for their employment, the injury would be compensable. Because the injury occurred while performing a job related activity during work hours with a special hazard of using a cutting tool necessary for their employment.
Guidelines for a safe remote work environment
Determining whether an injury that occured at home is work-related is more difficult for employers since there are usually no witnesses; an on-site investigation cannot be performed; and the actions of the work at home employees cannot be monitored directly. The best way to prevent home work related injuries is to create a safe environment by:
- Creating a work at home policy and review it with employees
- Setting fixed work hours and break sessions
- Defining the scope of work
- Checking with work at home employees often, or consider tracking equipment
- Establishing guidelines for a home office, such as a designated work area
- Providing training related to workstation set up and safety measures, including ergonomics
- Conducting periodic checks of employee home offices to help eliminate safety hazards
- Creating a home safety checklist, such as loose cords, overloaded electrical outlets, poor lighting
Work at home injuries are very fact-driven, so it is essential that the facts of each case are investigated thoroughly to determine whether the essential legal requirements have been met. The workers’ compensation attorneys at McDonald Hopkins can assist in crafting work at home policies, as well as the actions to take and the questions to ask when investigating at work at home injury, to ensure a proper defense of a work at home injury.