In March of this year, during the beginning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the U.S. workforce was setting up their work-from-home offices in the matter of a few days. In fact, by June nearly 40% of the U.S. workforce transitioned to working from home full-time. While these numbers have decreased slightly, only 50% of the February workforce is commuting every day, down from nearly 75% just a few months earlier. This new norm for the workforce shed new light on remote working. As most employees maintained their normal levels of productivity without the need for a central office, which besides salary is one of the largest overhead costs for most employers, the concept of working from home seemed like an efficient way to cut costs and boost employee morale. While working from home certainly has its benefits, it also presents a unique set of challenges and risks to the employer.
As the number of people working from home has increased, healthcare providers have also seen a rise in work-related injuries. People were forced to make work-from-home arrangements rapidly, so for many individuals, ergonomics was hardly a factor in their new makeshift offices.
A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reported that out of 51 participants who worked from home full-time, 41% reported lower back pain while 23% reported neck pain. Back and neck pain are often caused by a lack of movement and holding a fixed posture for a long period of time. Other concerns include eye strain caused by placing a computer monitor either too far or too close to the face. Wrist and carpal tunnel injury is caused by long hours of using the keyboard or mobile phone. In addition, overall physical inactivity can lead to obesity, increased blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels.
While these seem like small issues to deal with as we do our part to decrease the spread of COVID-19, these claims could cause a massive issue for HR departments. Typical company costs for treatment related to neck injuries can be upwards of $21,000 on average, while shoulder injuries average around $15,000. To reduce the risk of these claims, you might consider improving working conditions for your employees. Appropriate office equipment, such as sit-to-stand desks, standing mats, and adjustable monitors can avoid these risks and keep productivity rates high.
As more employees work from home, many are using home Wi-Fi and third-party software to connect to Zoom calls and access private work information, which can increase the risk of security breaches. The rate of hacking and phishing scams have increased dramatically as people began working from home full-time. Companies should work with their IT department to provide Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), firewalls, and additional antivirus software for their employees to utilize while working remotely. Employers might also consider consistently revisiting the topic of cybersecurity and encourage employees to change their passwords often, protect confidential information, and limit the number of employees sharing their screens while videoconferencing.
As companies and employees continue to operate remotely, it’s important employers consistently monitor behavior and asses liability risks. For many employers, most employee interaction occurs online via chatrooms and videoconferencing platforms, which can be more difficult to monitor. In addition, virtual happy hours, in an effort to boost employee morale, can cause unforeseen risks such as inappropriate behavior and overdrinking. Employers should consistently remind employees of company policies and take prompt action when any issues arise.
It’s also important to understand that employers are legally responsible to provide any tools and accommodations for employees with known or perceived disabilities as they work from home. This could include anything from the purchase of specific furniture to adjusting working hours.As most companies have extended their work-from-home policies well into the next year, it’s important to acknowledge the risks that come with it and take precautions to minimize liabilities. RiskVersity has been helping employers implement remote work policies to keep employees safe and efficient while working from home. If you’re interested in learning more about our offerings, please contact us.