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Is the Company on the Hook if a Remote-worker Suffers a Fall at Home?

posted 2 years ago

With remote-work trends showing little sign of ceasing, slouching non-ergonomically on the couch or a fall on the way to the washroom may prove to be as painful for employers as they are for the inflicted employees.

Some may find this perplexing and apt to open the floodgates for endless liability on the part of employers for injuries sustained by remote workers. They would be correct to assume so. After all, what evidence is there that the injury even occurred in her home let alone on her way to her scheduled lunch.

Although this case concerned eligibility for worker’s compensation and not liability for workplace injuries, it is easy to imagine how employees may seize upon it as an opportunity to extract compensation from their employers for injuries sustained in the home during the workday (or inside or outside of their home at any time) unrelated to their employment. How can an employer ever prove that any injury, performed by someone working from home was not sustained as part of performing their job?

Employers have an obligation to make employees aware of the hazards of their job and take all reasonable precautions in the circumstances to ensure a safe workplace. It seems trite to remind readers that the “workplace” is just that – the place where an employee works. But for remote employees, the question of where the line is drawn between the workplace and the private residence is not straightforward.

Companies can provide all the ergonomic furniture, special lighting, and safety equipment they like. But it is impracticable, if not impossible, for them to anticipate and control all imaginable hazards in the home workplace such as stairs not being up to code, defective fire alarms, or perils such as pets and toddlers running underfoot.

Absent strict policies that clearly set out where, when, and how remote employees are to conduct their work, employers may find themselves in the difficult position of arguing that an injury sustained by a remote worker was unrelated to employment without any meaningful evidence to support their position. Even then, they remain profoundly restricted in their ability to exert control over an employee’s workspace and to regularly monitor their activities such that potential injuries can be avoided.

Despite all of this, we would caution employees to not take cases such as these as a victory. It will likely end up being quite the opposite for those who spent the past two years working from the comfort of their beds and kitchen tables.

Such cases will likely motivate employers with remote workforces to maximize the degree of control they have over those previously private workplaces, be it through stringent work-from-home policies restricting where and how work may be conducted, increased employee monitoring, or regular safety audits of home workspaces. The law of unintended consequences always prevails.

Alternatively, they may opt to take our preferred route and do away with remote work arrangements entirely for most as soon as the opportunity arises.

BY HOWARD LEVITT AND KATHERINE GOLOBIC

Howard Levitt is Senior Partner of Levitt Sheikh, employment and labour lawyers with offices in Toronto and Hamilton. He practises employment law in eight provinces. He is the author of six books, including the Law of Dismissal in Canada. Katherine Golobic is with Levitt Sheikh.

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED HERE: https://financialpost.com/fp-work/is-the-company-on-the-hook-if-a-remote-worker-suffers-a-fall-at-home

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