Insurance risks of telecommuting Featured

10:10am EDT July 22, 2002

Insurance risks of telecommuting

Just because some of your employees work from home doesn't mean you're not liable for them.

By Thomas W. Curry

For 11 million workers across the country, a daily commute might mean a few steps out the kitchen door and down a flight of stairs.

I'm one of those workers. Two and a half years ago, I officially joined the growing ranks of corporate telecommuters, turning in my office key for a house key.

My position as an outside salesman for Berwanger Overmyer Associates is a natural for telecommuting. Today's technology allows the flexibility of working from home while remaining in close contact with the corporate office. Phones, fax machines, computers with modems, voicemail and pagers allow home-based employees like myself to remain connected to clients without taking up corporate office square footage.

Working for the insurance industry and as a telecommuter, I am sensitive to the potential risks involved in moving employees from an office environment into their homes. My advice to employers is to view those potential risks prior to making telecommuting a standard practice.

Before I moved the first piece of office equipment to my home, we made sure the company's insurance policy extended coverage to me for any losses I incurred while conducting business in my home. Some of the more common liability issues for telecommuters include:

  • Workers' compensation coverage. Consider how your company's premiums might be affected by a transition to telecommuting. The two biggest workers' comp concerns relate to ergonomics and the difficulty in drawing distinctions between those injuries related to work and those that are not.

  • Protection for damage to the home office or equipment. Keep track of the employees' homeowners or renters insurance policy as well as any umbrella policies they might have in case of potential losses that might require contact with that insurer.

  • Security of computer information and equipment stored in the home. Maintain an inventory of all home office equipment and furniture, along with model and serial numbers, in the event of a loss. This will help when filing a claim.

  • Injuries to people who visit the home on business. Make sure your business policy coverage extends to your workers' home offices and train employees how to report accidents or losses.

  • General office safety. Some companies make it a practice to visit each of their telecommuters annually to ensure compliance with a standard safety checklist. Inspections can include such items as smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, proper use of extension cords and lighting, and ergonomically correct office furniture.

    Employers should choose their telecommuting employees carefully. Not all people can adapt to such an independent work environment. For me, I can think of no better way to work. Bringing my office home has been the best business move I've ever made.

    Thomas W. Curry is senior vice president for Berwanger Overmyer Associates in Upper Arlington.