Homeward Bound

Who's responsible when work-related accidents occur outside of the office?

One of your best employees moves to her dream house on the lake but isn't excited about commuting downtown to your office. Is it possible to have her work from home? And while you're at it, could this arrangement work for your out-of-state tech specialist? How about those sales team members who are gone so much that their desks are a waste of space?

A growing number of companies are turning to telecommuting in hopes of retaining key employees, increasing productivity and improving efficiency. According to the Kensington Technology Group, a San Mateo, California, manufacturer of computer accessories, 8.2 million Americans telecommute regularly. And in a survey of employers released last April, Kensington found that employees report being 30 percent more productive when working from home.

Whether experimenting with a single telecommuter or launching an entire program, it's important to plan for liability issues. Many companies begin with a telecommuting agreement that addresses office arrangements, hours, responsibilities and who pays for what. This agreement should also address questions of security for company property and proprietary information; safety; and property, casualty, liability, and workers' compensation insurance. The arrangements you set up can make the difference between being liable for workers' comp on injuries in a given room during stated hours and being held responsible for anything that happens to an employee throughout his or her house 24 hours a day.

Steven C. Bahls, dean of Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, teaches entrepreneurship law. Freelance writer Jane Easter Bahls specializes in business and legal topics.

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This article was originally published in the January 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Homeward Bound.

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