Sometime in the last few months permanent working from home (WFH) went from being likely to being reality. While WFH allows employers to access and retain a larger labor pool of top candidates and provides employees with flexibility and options, just because it’s glittering doesn’t mean it’s all gold. The highlights of WFH are easy to find by googling and the most immediate difficulties of WFH have already been discussed. This blog post will mainly focus on some downsides to work from home looming in the distance.
As our friends from the Christensen Group discussed in one of our recent seminars, when you bring your work back home, work comp insurance follows.
One interaction of work comp and WFH which may become interesting is the “personal comfort doctrine”; a legal principle which has led to injuries sustained in the pursuit of workplace comfort being compensable under work comp. For example, one employee suffered a compensable injury when he was struck by a car while crossing the street to purchase cigarettes, during work hours (Holly Hill Fruit Products, Inc. v. Krider). Historically, employers have limited this exposure by controlling the work environment: providing amenities onsite, preventing employees from leaving during work hours, etc. The great decentralization of work means that employers are no longer able to modify the work-environment of their employees. Coffee breaks at the café down the street and grease burns from afternoon snacks may soon climb to the top of work comp expenditures among an employee base which has historically had very low work comp rates.
Another work comp term which is going to appear in a lot of SHRM searches in the future is the “Coming and Going Rule”. Generally speaking, commuting to and from work is not covered by work comp. However, some exceptions to that rule include when you must go from one jobsite to another (for example, coming in for a meeting when you normally work at home) or when a manager directs an employee to go somewhere, such as to pick something up from a store. It seems likely that an increasing percentage of auto accidents will be telecommuters calling in to meetings while driving or swinging by the office or picking up supplies, which will then be reflected in a spike of work comp payouts.
While the leap to WFH was spurred by the desire to keep employees safe from the coronavirus pandemic, it may have come at the risk of a loss of ground in the fight against the (admittedly less severe) sedentary behavior pandemic. My recent thesis research into the effects of telecommuting on work performance and sedentary behavior showed significantly worse self-reported sedentary behavior which was associated with lower self-reported work performance. As a whole, employees spent significantly less time standing and walking than pre-pandemic, with time spent non-sedentary going from not good to even worse.
For employers, this might mean a work force increasingly dealing with musculoskeletal injury, cardiovascular diseases, and employees who are generally unwell but working. Compounding this issue, and returning to the theme of employers inability to effect the WFH environment, it’s likely that not every employee possesses an office setup suitable for working in eight hours per day. Further, many employees (especially younger ones) may not even have the physical space in their homes and apartments to create a suitable office space.
Finally, in addition to the huge transition to WFH, we’ve also experienced what’s being referred to as the Great Resignation; an unprecedented number of resignations and retirements, numbering in the millions more than expected. Not only are people leaving roles to seek those that offer WFH, however, but they’re leaving WFH roles at unprecedented rates as well. A New York Times piece titled “If You Never Met Your Coworkers In Person, Did You Even Work There” addresses the phenomena of people getting huge opportunities in an entirely WFH setting, and then quitting within the year citing no relationships as a reason to stay. It has long been an opinion in our office that a key factor to retention is valuable relationships with coworkers, which some employees may never get to foster in a WFH environment.
In no way is this meant to prevent businesses from adopting a WFH component. WFH offers flexibility and access to talent on a scale that has never before existed. While I don’t advocate throwing the baby out with the bathwater, let’s at least get the baby out of the tub and dried off before adopting permanent and total work from home policies.