Perils Of Work From Home
March 25, 2021 – Michael Marsh
The work from home environment creates many new and different considerations for claims handling entities. In the workers' compensation industry, focus must be spread equally between the safety and welfare of the employee claims professionals and the injured/recovering workers that are served.
Many commentators have presented on the topic. The opinions have ranged from 'work from home is inevitable, necessary, and will lead to significant savings for the employer in rent/lease payments' to 'this is bad for the health and recovery of injured workers'. This presentation will not take sides, other than to say that there is credibility to both sides of the arguments.
Since the 1990's, claims offices, starting in large metropolitan areas, began locking their doors. Security devices were added, entry areas that required a manually operated system to be deployed in order to gain access inside the facility and certain companies forbade their claims professionals from meeting face-to-face with recovering workers and/or their families. While some were assigned to work from home roles, most claims professionals and support staffs were located in "the claims office".
With COVID and #pandemic2020, the slow movement towards work from home was shifted to light speed. Computer systems were revised, laptops were purchased and high speed personal internet became a primary carrier of significantly PPI ("Protected Personal Information"). Services like zoom became household words in 2020. Some have estimated that as many as 90% of all workers' compensation claims professionals are stationed at a desk in their own home in 2021.
There are of course myriad exposures with employees working from home that do not exist in a professional office environment. Risk managers across the country are dealing with desk positioning, flooring installation and other seating and mobility issues...nearly all dealt with without a personal visit to the work site.
One exposure that I have not seen written about is the impact of a natural disaster upon the employee's home. But happen they will. As we say in motorcycle racing, it isn't IF an injurious incident will take place, it is simply WHEN.
That WHEN struck today.
In a zoom call today (March 25, 2021) about Medicare Set Asides, a previously unexpected, extremely unlikely event took place. Each of the four presenters were working from home offices. In typical form, the zoom call proceeded with presentations, handoff from presenter to presenter, questions placed in the queue and Power Point presentation slides advanced in sequence. Excellent learning opportunity. It was a great session with invaluable information.
What was unexpected? The primary presenter announced that she needed to step off the call for a moment, there was a tornado approaching her house.
The other presenters were amazingly professional and finished the presentation without slides, imparting a great deal of valued information. All the while, the hundreds of people on the zoom session were wondering...listening and taking notes...but wondering. What happened. Is everyone okay. What is going on?
Just before the end of the hour, the primary presenter came back on the call to inform the participants that the tornado had in fact struck her home. Trees are down. Windows are out. I think it was emotional for everyone on the session. It was her home. It was her office. There was damage. Fortunately, she and her dog were uninjured...and the storm had passed.
This caused me to ask, is work from home the "right" thing for claims professionals? It is for sure a new thing to think about when employing claims professionals working from home. Disasters happen. House fires. Dog bites. Floods. Break ins and thefts. Many exposures that the workers' compensation claims industry has heretofore not had to address for their considering appropriate equipment, open claim counts, closing ratios, etc.
New questions to contemplate have emerged. What is your backup plan if your employee's work from home house is damaged or destroyed? Where will they work? How will they provide the service to the recovering working during this time? If the employee is injured in the storm, is it a reportable workers' compensation claim? How do you properly risk manage someone's spare bedroom?
For larger organizations, there are also questions that fall into the ethics arena. What about the impact upon ancillary businesses and their workers? I found this Wired article interesting on this point @ https://www.wired.com/story/after-remote-year-tech-shadow-workforce-barely-hangs-on/
Let's not lose site of our claims mission...aid and assist recovering workers through the workers' compensation system.
Takeaway: The work from home environment creates many new and different considerations for claims handling entities. In the workers' compensation industry, focus must be spread equally between the safety and welfare of the employee claims professionals and the injured/recovering workers that are served.