Colsa Insurance Agency, Inc. Blog
As more Americans work from home than ever before, many employers are wondering about their obligations under OSHA as well as how to reduce the chances that workers may be injured while telecommuting.
Obviously, the chances of an injury when working from home are small. The most common issue that is likely to arise is long-term injuries from poor workstation design, which can result in carpal tunnel syndrome and other stress and ergonomic injuries that develop over time.
For the most part, employers should approach workplace safety for telecommuting workers as they would safety for office workers, particularly workstation design and arrangement (ergonomics) as well as work scheduling and distribution.
Duties under OSHA
OSHA's General Duty Clause applies to any place an employer has staff working, be that at the company's facilities or worksites, at a customer's worksite, or even if they work from home.
Under the clause, employers have a general duty to "furnish to each of his employee's employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees."
Fortunately, most workplace safety specialists say that employers have little responsibility in ensuring a safe workplace. In fact, OSHA has issued guidance stating that it:
Workers' comp still in play
While that is good news, employers are still responsible for any injuries an employee suffers while working from home under workers' compensation laws.
For an injury to be considered work-related it must:
With that in mind, employers do have an obligation to ensure that a home worksite is safe in order to prevent injuries, even if OSHA does not require it.
The international law firm of Foley & Lardner, LLP recommends that employers:
While you as an employer are not required under OSHA regulations to inspect your workers' home's for compliance, it is a good idea to give them guidelines for how to set up their home office and also work with them to supply any needed furniture or accessories they would need to safely carry out their work tasks.
You may also want to consider asking them to install a smoke alarm in their home and that they have a plan to evacuate in case of fire or other emergency. Also if they have a lot of electrical equipment, there should be sufficient ventilation.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make if you incur damage to your business premises is to wait too long before filing the claim with your insurer.
The owners of a hotel in Dallas learned this the hard way when a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the business had waited too long to file a claim with its insurer after suffering hail damage.
The court ruled that because the hotel had waited more than 19 months to file the claim, it was impossible for the insurer to ascertain exactly when the damage had occurred.
The hotel's property policy required that the insured make "prompt notice" of any claims.
But the insurer rejected the claim when it received it for a hailstorm that had happened more than a year and a half earlier, on the grounds that it could not determine what had caused the damage or when the damage occurred. This was crucial since the policy had expired 17 months earlier - two months after the storm had allegedly damaged the hotel.
Believe it or not, filing late is a common problem and it is one of many mistakes business owners make when filing claims. The following are surefire ways to risk having your claim denied or disputed by your insurance company:
Not contacting your insurer immediately
While most insurance policies state that you must notify the company promptly of a loss, what counts as "prompt" may be a little vague. However, you can wreck your claim by reporting a loss so late that it "prejudices" the insurance company.
For the most part, you should take steps to notify your insurer as soon as possible after you become aware of a loss.
Failing to document the damage
Take pictures and itemize everything that was damaged. Often, you will have to make repairs immediately to prevent additional damage, or move machinery to a new location. If so, be sure to photograph the original scene to document how it was before you started your clean-up effort. Also take photos of any repairs you make.
Disposing of damaged goods
If your business clean-up includes removal of items such as water-damaged merchandise, flooring or insulation, keep it all, even if it has to pile up in the parking lot. The damaged materials are all evidence of the impact of the disaster on your business.
Not appealing an insurer's low estimate
After the claims adjuster inspects the damage, the insurance company will give you a damage estimate. If you think it's too low, you can appeal. We can help if you feel the estimate is too low.
But some businesses will hire an outside adjuster to make a second estimate, and then the claim will go to mediation for a final resolution.
Not reading your policy
You should understand exactly what your policy covers. For the most part, commercial property policies will not cover flooding or earthquake damage. That kind of coverage will often require a separate policy or rider.
Not being prepared
If your business suffers damage, you'll be better off if you know what to do in advance. Some advance steps you can take are:
A final word…
Filing a claim is usually not a difficult process, but you should be prepared in advance, like making sure you keep good records of all your assets, including receipts, payment schedules and more.
Finally, if you are unsure whether you should file a claim on any of your commercial policies, you can always give us a call to discuss the event and we can assist you.