Throughout the past two months, we’ve laid out the health and safety concerns of the remote workforce and some ways to address them. If you’re part of a remote leadership team (HR, CXO, etc), these are the things keeping you up at night. As remote work becomes more mainstream, companies need to get policies in place to keep off-site employees safe.
Most companies have been kicking this can down the proverbial road, retrofitting policies whenever possible and favoring individual solutions over company-wide standards. The risk with this practice is two-fold: potential legal and/or compliance issues, and missed opportunities for attracting and retaining new talent. Either way, the cost is too great to ignore.
So when it comes to creating safe and healthy working environments for remote workers, when and how should companies take charge?
Is Your Remote Company Legally Liable?
Traditional thoughts on employee safety in the workplace used to be clearly laid out. But, for the remote workforce, their office is their home. According to the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA),
“An employer is responsible for ensuring that its employees have a safe and healthful workplace, not a safe and healthful home. The employer is responsible only for preventing or correcting hazards to which employees may be exposed in the course of their work. For example: if work is performed in the basement space of a residence and the stairs leading to the space are unsafe, the employer could be liable if the employer knows or reasonably should have known of the dangerous condition.”
If a remote employee breaks a toe trying to avoid a stray LEGO piece while en route to their home office, does the company shoulder the liability? With the rise in demand for remote work, you can expect these issues to become more situationally complex, but don’t worry: policies are evolving. In fact, OSHA now maintains and regularly updates its FAQ to include work-from-home issues and how they interpret liability in specific cases. This is a boon for companies and employees alike, because it removes that pesky gray area in the event of injuries in the home office or elsewhere.
The realm of legal compliance becomes even more complex when companies start hiring across borders, and yet the ability to hire anyone from anywhere is one of the very things that makes going remote so attractive to companies in the first place. Now companies need to pay attention to both their own country as well as the rules of the countries where their employees live and work.
Plus, the law can be a moving target as remote environments continue to expand. So what can your company do to stay ahead of the legal learning curve?
- Catch-up on World Health Organization (WHO) “best practice tips” for incorporating worker safety and health into a global remote organization.
- Establish a Safety / Wellness Team. Proactively appoint members of your team to stay abreast of changes in the legal implications and solutions rollout for remote teams.
- Tap into expert resources:
- Develop and distribute a remote environmental safety checklist / training. Add it to your remote onboarding playbook. Ensure it’s trackable for employee completion. Build in a timeline for regular reminders. (Check out Trainual for options to get this started.)
Is Your Remote Company Prioritizing Worker Wellness?
As mentioned at the start, staying compliant and mitigating legal obligations is just one side of the coin when it comes to prioritizing the health, safety and wellness of remote workers. In plain English: companies that are doing the bare minimum to stay compliant per OSHA’s rules, but are missing the health and wellness aspect simply won’t have what it takes to attract and retain top talent.
A recent survey of 300 companies revealed that “45% of employees saw wellness programs as one factor for staying with a company.”
We know the biggest wellness concerns for this sector—the hot-button issues include stress, mental health, depression, burn-out and isolation. And yet companies who are dipping their toes into hiring remotely, don’t even have some of these initiatives on their radar.
It’s not that there are zero remote-focused companies offering these well-rounded benefits, though. In fact, here are a couple remote companies who are giving it a go:
- Basecamp offers “One-Month Sabbatical Every Three Years”, Standing Desk stipend, $100/month fitness allowance, $100/month wellness allowance … and the list goes on.
- After experimenting with different models, Buffer’s benefits now include minimum vacation days and offers Joyable as free mental health therapy to all team members and their families.
- Culture Amp created and shared their Employee Wellbeing Guide
What can we learn from these remote-leading companies? What are steps your organization can start evaluating today to ensure you’re prepared for your remote employee’s success?
- Restructure your benefits policy:
- To include mental health
- To include unlimited or minimum vacation days
- Institute training to identify and manage health and wellness issues:
- Offer stipends/reimbursements for:
- Home office safety consultations
- Home office ergonomic equipment
- Gym memberships
- Coworking spaces
- What would you add to the list?
The Wellness Path Ahead
Fostering health and safety for remote workers isn’t just good for companies; it’s good for everyone. Keeping people safe and happy in their work is paramount to the success and growth of remote work worldwide. In fact, we believe in it so strongly, we’ll soon be offering a course for employers who want to learn more and start implementing safety, health, and wellness guidelines for their remote workforce.
Kristin Kretzler contributed to this post.
Disclaimer: The information contained within this article is not a substitute for legal or medical advice from a licensed professional who is aware of the facts and circumstances of your individual situation.