review the ruling by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. It
could also be interpreted based on appeals and challenges in the courts,
"We're not sure where this is going to go. It's extremely broad," he
said. "But if the risk and complications would be substantial, we'd have
to reevaluate our telecommuting program. It becomes a risk management
Under current law, employers are responsible for the workplace
injuries of employees who work at home. The Nov. 15, 1999 letter and
ruling to a Houston credit services company asserts employers are further
responsible for health and safety violations that occur at a home work
The ruling, which is often vague and subject to interpretation, says
companies could be liable for ergonomic hazards, fire protection,
lighting, cooling and heating, and ventilation within a home office. It
also says an employer is required to asses the workplace to determine if
protective equipment is needed to make a home office safer.
The city has about 1,500 salaried employees and another 500 who work
on an hourly basis. Just how many telecommute is unknown, Hoffman said,
but many of the city's executives do so.
"Lots of word processing, graphs and charts, and research and
development," he said. "They can do the work right there, then e-mail or
fax it in."
Business groups are not happy with the decision. The United States
Chamber of Commerce called it "government regulation run amok."
"This runs completely counter to employers' efforts to give workers
greater flexibility," Bruce Josten, the group's executive vice president
said in a statement.
The Glendale Chamber of Commerce could not be reached for comment.
Julianne Broyles, the director of insurance and employee relations for
the California Chamber of Commerce, said the ruling is neither fair to
businesses who offer the program or those employees who work from home.
"This just magnifies the disincentives," she said. "What you are going
to see is businesses rescind these programs to limit their liability."
Despite the ruling, OSHA has no plans for inspecting workplaces at
home unless there are complaints or incidents.
Telecommuting cuts down on traffic and improves air quality, saves on
day-care for some employees and improves morale, Broyles said.
OSHA has good intentions behind the ruling, Broyles said.
"But it gets so distorted," she said. "I'm sure the intention is not
to kill telecommuting with one letter, but it may have done so."