"How Ga. Employers Can Allay Evolving Workers’ Comp Risk"
As employers consider employment arrangements for the new year, Emily Truitt authored an article for Law360 published on December 22, 2022, that highlights potential risk to consider for traveling and teleworking employees as it relates to workers’ compensation claims and investigations in Georgia.
Unlike telework, traveling employees have been around for decades, such as salespeople and construction workers, so laws around employee travel are bountiful in the workers’ compensation realm. “Georgia permits an employer to be penalized if an accident occurs in its warehouse, in part, because the accident could have been prevented. This notion of employer control may exist in an office or warehouse, but there is no such equivalent with traveling employees,” Truitt explained. “A traveling employee may be in an employer-provided vehicle, but the employer cannot control roads driven on, restaurants patronized, people an employee may interact with, the offices called upon and hotels slept in.”
With this in mind, there is variation on compensability as it relates to the traveling employee’s actions. In one case, a court found an injury compensable that occurred when a traveling employee crossed the street from the hotel, but the Georgia Supreme Court explained that some personal acts (like robbing a bank) would have been “so outside the threshold of tolerability that they would not be compensable.” In another case involving a fatal auto accident, a claim was not found compensable because the driver had driven 18 additional miles in the company car simply to “enjoy the ocean.”
“The unfortunate reality with traveling employees is that an employer can do little to truly mitigate claim risks,” Truitt said. “The best practice is to create a clear timeline after an accident has been reported. An employer or claim adjuster should ask where the employee was, why, what her intentions were and who she was with.”
Teleworker claims are less clear but there are a few cases to watch. Workers’ comp claims logged by remote employees typically fall into the categories of trips, slips and falls or cumulative injuries (e.g. carpal tunnel), all of which can be mitigated through quality equipment and space planning.
“Given the lack of guidance from Georgia courts on the teleworker issue, the best practice is to heed caution,” Truitt said. “Set boundaries with both continuous and remote employees, providing expectations of what days an employee should work. Employers should remain clear on what activities are considered work-related as opposed to personal. An employer should consider defining a physical workplace for teleworkers, with fixed work hours, scheduled lunches and breaks.”
In either a remote or traveling setting, Truitt emphasizes the importance of a thorough and prompt investigation to collect details to ensure the appropriate steps are taken.
For the full article, please click here.