A growing number of employees are making a claim to work from their home office. Many employers are willing to facilitate flexible working rights for their employees to create the conditions for a better work-life balance. But do home office rights exist, or is there even a law governing work from home?
Working from a home office is possible across a growing number of industries and is no longer just reserved for freelancers or the self-employed. But what if an accident happens in your home office? As an employee, you may know your rights in the workplace, and can be assured that health and safety in the workplace are taken care of by your employer. However, there seems to be uncertainty when working from home. Find out what you need to know about home office and insurance in general, and how you should behave in your own four walls in case of an accident during working hours.
What type of home office accident insurance is there?
First of all, a distinction must be made as to what types of insurances are available and who can be covered by them.
If you’re worried about protecting items you use as part of your home office set-up, you may be in luck depending on your current home contents insurance. Many insurers will insure items within your household against loss, theft, or even accidental damage. Some policies contain home office clauses which will pay for damage caused to home office equipment. Check the T&Cs of your existing policies to see if the contents of your office are already covered. This will prevent you from having to take out extra insurance, but don’t automatically assume these items are included in your homeowner’s insurance.
General liability insurance and property insurance are two other forms of insurance you should already have in place that could help set you up to be fully insured in your home office. Your employer will likely also have these forms of insurance. They protect you and your employer against claims related to bodily injury and property damage.
If you are a freelancer, however, the situation is a little different. In most cases, you won’t be covered by an employer’s insurance. Because each state has its own regulations, it’s best to check out the Department of Labor’s workers’ compensation regulations. Unfortunately, freelancers don’t benefit from a social security net, and often have to handle the financial consequences of having an accident at work, and indeed not being able to work and earn money once this happens. This is slowly changing, as start-ups and other businesses are aiming to change the game in terms of home office accident insurance for freelancers. It’s a relatively recent development, but there are some start-ups which have successfully created insurance policies for freelancers.
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What exactly is insured as part of a home worker’s insurance?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, unfortunately. With the rising number of home office workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have included their stance as part of their regulations. They state that “OSHA will not hold employers liable for employees’ home offices, and does not expect employers to inspect the home offices of their employees.” (VII Policy for Home Offices at the CPL 02-00-125 directive.
However, the situation is a little different for home-based manufacturing working environments. OSHA state that: “OSHA will only conduct inspections of other home-based worksites, such as home manufacturing operations, when OSHA receives a complaint or referral that indicates that a violation of a safety or health standard exists that threatens physical harm, or that an imminent danger exists, including reports of a work-related fatality.” (CPL 02-00-125 directive, VIII Policy for Other Home-Based Worksites). What is included in home office accident insurance, therefore, depends on the type of work you’re doing from home.
What can be said, however, is that even though OSHA will not inspect home environments, your employer is still responsible for ensuring you can work safely within your home. Questions you should ask yourself include whether you have a dedicated workspace, and if you can demonstrate that this is where you work regularly. If you have an accident during working hours but this occurred outside of your home, and you normally work at a desk, it may be difficult to justify your claim.
Examples of what counts as a home office accident
As mentioned above, it may be difficult to prove that your home office injury was work-related. OSHA have several regulations on this, and many can be found online on 1904.5 - Determination of work-relatedness. The guidance outlines how some instances of accidents and illnesses that occur during work hours are not counted as workplace-related. Under 1904.5(b)(7), OSHA answers the question of how it decides if a case is workplace-related or not. Although directed at employers, this information is useful to you as an employee too because it can help you to imagine the various scenarios, and better understand your home office insurance needs. Here’s a list of examples of work-related and non-work-related injuries, adapted from Standard 1904.5(b)(7):
- If you drop a box of work documents and you injure your foot, the case is considered work-related, according to OSHA.
- If you puncture your fingernail with a needle from a sewing machine used to perform garment work at home, and this becomes infected and requires medical treatment, the injury is considered work-related.
- If you are injured because you trip over the family dog while rushing to answer a work phone call, the case is not considered work-related, even though you rushed to answer a business phone call.
- If you’re working at home and are electrocuted because of faulty home wiring, the injury is not considered work-related.
These examples highlight that the home environment is not subject to the same health and safety regulations as an office.
What should you do in case of an accident during working hours in your home office?
The examples shown above mean that you need to ensure your general liability and healthcare insurances are up to date when working from home. You will not always be covered by your employer’s insurance, and OSHA don’t count all injuries during working hours as workplace injuries. What you should do to help any claims made in relation to a true workplace-related injury is detailed below, and applies to any home worker’s insurance.
If the work itself was the cause of injury, you should document the case as accurately as possible and inform your employer so they can fill out an OSHA 300 log.
You may also wish to document the following for your own records:
- the circumstances of the accident,
- the location,
- the exact time and,
- anything that might be relevant in any way.
Take note of all the details and take photos, for example, of your home office. Make a note of which working materials you were using at the time the accident occurred and whether, and when you called your work to report the accident – and who your contact person was. Inform your insurance company as soon as possible because waiting decreases your credibility. It is also helpful if you have a witness to the accident – family members, for example, or a neighbor whom you asked for help after it happened.
If you have not already done so, consider taking out a private accident insurance policy. This provides protection not only in terms of home office insurance, but across all leisure activities and can be tailored to individual needs.