Businesses were exposed to new and expanded risks when employees abruptly began working from home last year. The most pressing risks – like IT security and remote accessibility – were quickly addressed. However, many of the mitigations put in place were designed to be temporary fixes rather than long-term solutions. And that could leave you vulnerable.
More than a year later and about two-thirds of organizations are still fully remote. While 64% plan to bring employees back to the office this year, about one in five of those will do so in a hybrid capacity.
It’s safe to say that most organizations will have at least some employees working remotely for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, here are five work-from-home risks to consider addressing in a more proactive, permanent, and strategic way:
1. Labor Regulations
The freedom to work from anywhere prompted more than one in 10 Americans to move over the past year – many of whom moved out of state. While tax law varies by state, this may mean you need to comply with an expanded number of jurisdictions based on where your employees currently reside.
Wage and hour laws also remain in place while employees work from home. While it is difficult for an employer to assess an employee’s hours when working remotely, the burden remains on employers to maintain accurate records.
After-hour social events like virtual happy hours can open employers to risk as well. In the relaxed comfort of their own homes, employees may, for instance, temporarily forget they are at a company event and engage in inappropriate behaviors like harassment or discrimination.
Minimize your work-from-home compliance risk by centralizing jurisdictional requirements with software that can seamlessly integrate relevant HR data. And minimize your HR risk with regular, clear communications about ethics and expectations.
2. Workers’ Compensation
Employers have little control over what happens in an employee’s home — even when they’re “on the clock.” If an employee working from home falls down the stairs and sustains an injury or trips over their dog while on a work call is that a legitimate work comp claim?
Case law on this topic, even prior to the pandemic, established that workers must prove they were working in the interest of the employer at the time the injury occurred. The sticking point is if the injury arose out of the employment or if the risk existed at the home regardless of employment.
Minimize your work-from-home risk by responding quickly to any claim filed and streamlining the claims administration process for faster resolution, which will lead to better outcomes all the way around.
Employers are obligated by law to provide accommodations for employees with perceived and known disabilities, even when working from home. This could include ergonomic computer equipment or a special chair to relieve backaches while sitting all day. Does this definition of disability extend to a worker who has neck pain after choosing to work scrunched up on the couch all day – or a manager who has back pain after days spent working while perched on a kitchen bar stool?
In a work-from-home world, the organization’s obligation isn’t so clear. Minimize your risk by supplying employees with an “office-in-a-box,” complete with a chair, desk, and more. Or offer a set amount of money for employees to purchase whatever ergonomic equipment would be most helpful to them.
As many as 45% of workers say they are burned out when working from home because of a lopsided work/life balance. When working and living in the same space, there are no clear boundaries to separate work and personal life, which can make it difficult to shut the laptop and end the workday.
To be clear, though, burnout is more than simply being exhausted from working too much. True burnout is known to cause a variety of physical and mental conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and even death.
Minimize your risk by demonstrating balanced behavior at the top. Encourage employees to set limits – and make it acceptable to hold off on, say, an email response until regular business hours. It’s also a good idea for managers to regularly check in on their direct reports to make sure the balance is in check.
5. Psychological Stressors
As many as 75% of U.S. employees say they have struggled with anxiety caused by the pandemic – and nearly 80% would consider quitting their job in favor of one that focused more on employee mental health.
That’s sobering news for employers where mental health was already costing an estimated $300 billion a year, according to the World Health Organization. Zoom fatigue, parenting kids in remote school while working full time, and fears of job loss are all adding to worker stress levels. – which in turn leads to increased absenteeism and higher healthcare costs. In fact, healthcare expenditures are nearly 50% greater for workers who report high levels of stress.
Minimize your risk by minimizing the stress on your workforce. Be clear about expectations – and look for work output, not hours input. Less stressed out employees are good for business.
With a hybrid workforce seemingly here to stay, this is the time to take a fresh look at your work-from-home risks and manage the impacts from a strategic perspective. Organizations that adapt well to this new reality are poised to enjoy all of the advantages of a happier, more productive workforce – and a stronger bottom line.