As the world has become smaller and we are more connected thanks to new technologies – such as smart phones, laptops, iPads, etc. – the workplace has become much, much larger. This has helped increase the productivity of workers, who can now take an emergency meeting while driving home from the office, or send work documents back and forth while technically away on vacation.
The consequence of all of this increased productivity is the potential for increased liability on the part of employers: As the workplace becomes bigger and bigger, the traditional ideas about workplace injuries and workers’ compensation have become much more confusing.
“It used to be easy, working 9 to 5,” Charles Martin of Marsh, an international insurance company, told Insurance Journal. “We knew what everything was about, we knew what workers’ comp was, we knew what compensability was. Things have changed.”
These changes have lead to a lot of ambiguity about what constitutes a workplace injury and triggers workers’ comp benefits. If you’re on your workplace-issued smart phone and you have a car accident while talking to your boss, does that qualify you for workers’ compensation? What about if you are checking your e-mail on your work-issued laptop and have an accident? What if you are hurt while using other hand-held devices given to you by your employer?
Unfortunately for employers, case law has not caught up with technology enough to give clear guidance on these issues. At this point, it is up to employers to provide a safe work environment by creating rules about how workplace technology should and should not be used. In addition, employers should educate their employees about the risks caused by distracted driving and implement distracted driving policies.
“We are coming to a pivotal point where we need to take the bull by the horns. We need to establish some very hard and fast rules and we need to communicate them clearly,” Michael Liebowitz, the Director of Risk Management and Insurance at New York University, told Insurance Journal. “There needs to be ramifications and there needs to be a partnership with HR and employment lawyers to make sure these rules stick and they do work.”