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Is Employer Responsible for Keeping Remote Worker's Home Safe? CA Court Weighs In

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It has always been an employer's duty to keep the workplace safe for employees. But ever since the pandemic and remote work, the line between home and the workplace has blurred.

Employment Law
Employment Law

This has resulted in many employers wondering if they would be responsible for the safety of a remote employee's home — since that is their workspace.

The answer is: it depends. And a recent court case in California had a judge draw the line at what an employer is responsible for in remote workers' homes.

Injured in the home

In a tragic and disturbing case (Colonial Van & Storage Inc., v. Superior Court of Fresno County), a remote employee invited several co-workers to her home for dinner. During the dinner, the employee's son — a veteran with a history of PTSD — got his hands on a gun and used it to injure several guests and kill one.

The victims of this tragedy wanted to hold the employer responsible, arguing that Colonial Van and Storage had a duty to ensure that home was safe for its workers.

But the California appeals court ruled in favor of the employer. It said the company had no control over the employee's home. While the company did get some commercial benefit from the home, since the remote employee did perform work there, it wasn't enough to create a duty to ensure it was safe.

The court said that ruling in favor of the employees "would exact a high social cost", adding "employers would become the insurers of the safety of working-at-home employees in the event of any intentional harm, even if the employer had no reason to expect it. This is an unrealistic obligation."

Employees would have to be willing to accept their employer's intrusions into their daily lives, the modifications to their home, and working in a state of siege. Further, an employer's background checks could potentially endanger the employees' rights to privacy and association, and in certain instances, would be prohibited. For example, federal and state laws would block an employer's access to the medical, criminal, and driving records of employees and other occupants of the home. Employees would be faced with surrendering these records to their employer on demand or face possible termination or other job-related penalties.

When employers are responsible

That being said, there are instances where an employee's injury at home could be compensable under workers' compensation, if they can prove the injury occurred while they were doing something work-related.

Many courts have found that even though an employer is unable to control the conditions of an employee's home, it can still be held responsible for the injury if the worker was acting in the interest of the company at the time the injury occurred.

Posted In: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19); Human Resources, General; Safety / Workplace Injury; Workplace Policies/Rules

Want to know more? Read the full article by at HR Morning

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