While most remote workers tend to be in “white collar” jobs with less physical injury risk than other industries such as construction or manufacturing, there is still cause for concern, according to claims experts.
Jennifer Cogbill, senior vice president, GBCARE Client Services, at Gallagher Bassett, a global provider of risk and claims management services, says that as employers shift to more remote and hybrid work arrangements, there are significant changes in terms of how workers’ compensation claims are investigated, as well as new challenges to consider from a loss control perspective.
“The swift move to remote work eliminated many of the controls in place that previously ensured a safe and productive work environment,” she said. “For example, in a traditional office environment, attention is taken to have appropriate office furniture to avoid injury, including chairs that swivel and monitors set at appropriate eye level to avoid strain.”
Even so, Cogbill said that Gallagher Bassett is seeing a steeper decline in workers’ compensation claims for office occupations relative to other occupations, suggesting the COVID-19 environment has actually improved the picture of risk for most people who now work from home at least part of the time.
“During COVID-19, office clerical claims specifically have decreased by 39%, a much larger decrease compared to other job types,” she said. “However, the average severity of those claims increased by 17%, which could be tied to lack of employer oversight in a remote work environment.”
Without the ability to design and oversee the workspace, employers need to think about finding alternative ways to control risk and mitigate potential claims, she advised.
“Beyond sending a computer and phone, providing proper ergonomics and guidelines for the employee to set up and maintain an optimal workspace at home has become an important step.” If left unaddressed, we can expect to see an increase in related injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, rotator cuff injuries, and lower back injuries, she said.
When it comes to claim investigation, Cogbill says she’s seen a rise in new compensability considerations. For example, unwitnessed activities while at home may be more questionable or uncertain as to whether they are work related, she said.
“It is important for the employer to define duties and for the claim examiner to complete a timely and thorough investigation to determine compensability,” she said. “It is critical to review the risks associated with a less experienced workforce operating under stressful conditions and take decisive corrective action.”