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Conference speakers discuss how portable devices are increasing work comp costs

Last month, employers and risk managers from across North America gathered in Vancouver for the annual Risk and Insurance Management Society meeting. Interestingly, one of the most discussed topics at the conference had to do with the increased use of mobile technology - smartphones, BlackBerries, laptops, iPads - and how this increased use is now leading to increased workers' compensation defense costs for many employers.

According to conference speakers, employees are now more mobile than ever, using the aforementioned technology to work non-standard hours while at home or while on the road.

However, this increased reliance on mobile technology is shattering previously held notions of work-related injuries, creating uncertainty regarding whether the employee was technically considered on-the-job while injured or whether their activity fell within the scope of employment.

"It used to be easy, working 9 to 5. We knew what everything was about, we knew what workers' comp was, we knew what compensability was. Things have changed," said Charles Martin, an executive with global insurance giant Marsh.

Interestingly, many of the speakers suggested that while the use of mobile technology cannot - and should not - be stopped, employers can implement certain measures to protect themselves from exposure to liability.

Specifically, the speakers indicated that employers first need to define their company's tolerance for risk, perhaps working with the Human Resources department to reach a working definition.

"How much risk is your organization willing to accept by delivering these devices to employees with the hope of getting higher productivity?" said Michael Liebowitz, director of risk management and insurance for New York University.

Once this risk tolerance has been clearly defined, the speakers suggested that employers could officially begin crafting employee contracts that clearly outline the course and scope of rules governing use of mobile technology.

"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," said Liebowitz. "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."

Stay tuned for further developments in the area of workers' compensation defense law ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal or medical advice.

Related Resources:

As more workers go mobile, workers' compensation exposure grows (Insurance Journal)

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