The outcry over an advisory from OSHA saying it would hold employers responsible for the safety of employees working at home died quickly when OSHA withdrew the ruling last week.
However, experts say that there are ground rules that companies should set to assure that this highly productive relationship works best for everyone involved.
Approximately 20 million teleworkers conduct business at home on a daily basis, according to statistics from the International Telework Association and Council (ITAC), a group that promotes telecommuting.
At a recent press conference regarding OSHA's at-home work policy, Gail Martin, executive director of the ITAC, said employers should sit down with their employees and put together a memorandum of understanding about the responsibilities of each telecommuter to ensure their safety and health in the home work place.
Nadine Mockler, president of Flexible Resources, a Greenwich, Conn., consulting firm that sets up alternative work arrangements for professionals, said most companies don't even think about their responsibilities for the safety of their at-home employees.
"In our 10 years in business, the safety of someone working out of their home has never come up," said Mockler. "We tell our clients from small business owners to Fortune 500 companies, to pay attention to the home office situation. When that happens, safety becomes a common-sense issue."
Here are some suggestions Flexible Resources offers to businesses who have employees who telecommute.
- The employer should insist that the home office is indeed a proper office -- with a door that closes. Forget the dining room table, a telecommuter needs a clean, quiet uncluttered space to be productive.
- The company should ensure that the home office is equipped with the type of technology the employee would have in the office.
- The company and the telecommuter should go over a set of ground rules establishing specific hours the employee is expected to be at their desks, and how and when both sides will communicate.
"We are glad to see the government recognizes telecommuting as a visible work option," said Laurie Young, a partner at Flexible Resources. "The most dangerous thing employees do every day is drive to work during rush hour. Telecommuters may in fact be the safest employees of all."