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Telecommuting? Employers' insurance might not cover accidents at home

Increasing numbers of people are working from home, but the practice can include personal financial risks.

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Telecommuting, especially working online from home, has been on the rise in recent years and has received a new boost in the the past few weeks and days.

As of the start of this year, revised labour legislation in Finland officially classified any time spent telecommuting as work time. This gave telecommuting a boost. Now, concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus have led to many employers allowing, some even encouraging employees to work from home.

An issue not necessarily foreseen in this trend, however, is insurance coverage for telecommuters.

It is well known that more accidents happen at home than anywhere else, and Finnish insurance companies report a rise in the number of accident insurance claims from people telecommuting from home.

Devil in the details

Both employers and employees may be surprised that although an accident occurred during telecommuting work time, insurance claims made on employers' policies may be rejected, says Teemu Kastula, a lawyer for the LocalTapiola General Mutual Insurance Company.

Employers are legally obligated to provide occupational accident insurance and the extent of coverage is also legally mandated. In practice, for telecommuters, this means that only accidents directly related to work activities are eligible for compensation.

So, for example, if someone working from home drops a laptop in their foot, breaking a toe, employer-provided occupational accident insurance covers it. But if they slip and fall while getting a cup of coffee from the kitchen, it won't.

"Telecommuting typically means office work done at a computer where few accidents occur. Most accidents happen when the individual is doing something other than actual work at home," explains Kastula.

According to Teemu Kastula, accidents that occur on days people are telecommuting often include falls during lunch breaks or breaks outside the house.

"This is the reason that accidents while telecommuting are rarely covered by occupational accident insurance," says LocalTapiola's Teemu Kastula.

At the employer's premises, occupational accident insurance is much more extensive. It provides coverage for accidents that occur not just during the actual performance of a job, but broadly for any accident at work.

The reason for the difference is that employers have no direct say over safety conditions in an employee's private home.

Better coverage possible

The personal financial risks associated with telecommuting can be reduced by extra insurance coverage. Occupational accident insurance can be extended with leisure-time group policies, and employers can purchase separate policies providing full coverage for employees during telecommuting hours.

Kastula thinks it would be good for anyone who works remotely to bring the issue up with their employer. He suggests that employers who have a lot of employees working from home give serious consideration to expanding their coverage. Leisure-time group policies, which provide round-the-clock coverage, can also be seen as an attractive recruitment perk.

Hanna Hartikainen, who is the chief claims officer at Pohjola Insurance, says that well over one-third of her company's corporate clients have purchased extended coverage, and the number is growing. Generally, these policies cover not only accidents during telecommuting time, but all of their employees' working and free time.

Telecommuting's sharp rise

There are numerous reasons cited for the popularity of telecommuting. It has proven to be an efficient way to get many jobs done. It is a boon in remote areas. Many people say that they can focus better on the task at hand when working from home. And, it can provide flexibility, making work and personal life a better fit.

According to a study by Statistics Finland, in 1990, a mere two percent of wage earners used information technology to do at least some of their work from home by agreement with their employers.

In 1997, telecommuting was still relatively rare, with only four percent of the workforce engaging in the practice. By 2008, that figure had risen to 10 percent.

Today, one in three wage earners in Finland does at least some telecommuting. For upper-level white collar employees, it is around 60 percent.

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