Covid-19 contagion in home office is not yet considered to be an occupational hazard

Note published on March 14 in El Sol de México, Sociedad [Society] Section by Bertha Becerra
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Lawyer Héctor de la Cruz, a specialist in Labor Law, said that contracting covid while working at home is not yet considered to be an occupational hazard.

Teleworking is a work modality that brings peace of mind, stability and harmony into the lives of many people. It allows avoiding risks and avoiding long commutes as well as stress, the saturation of the transportation system and repeated non-compliance with the start of working hours.

It also opens the possibility of a better management of work time and its combination with personal time; this is, more rest time and the possibility of spending time with the family “but if, for any reason, the employee falls ill with Covid-19, it sets a pattern for it to be considered to be an occupational hazard.”

This was explained by Héctor de la Cruz, a specialist in labor Law, in answer to question posed on whether working from home and falling ill with Covid-19 is considered as an “occupational hazard”, as stated by the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS).

He pointed out: “This is not possible for three reasons.” And explained:

1.- The reform on Teleworking states that the Official Mexican Standard (NOM) that will determine which are the possible risks and diseases associated with home office or working from home will be published within a term of 18 months.

“At this time, there is no legal basis that provides information on what is considered as a risk. But, logically, not all diseases that are commonly related to the work environment are considered in this modality.

“And it is unlikely that a contagious and pandemic disease, like coronavirus will be considered in this NOM”, he pointed out.

2.- The agreement under which the worker agrees to work from his home does not make said home an extension of the work center. That is, his home is his home and nothing more.

He explains: “Within the premises of the source of work, the employer has the right and the obligation to follow safety and hygiene guidelines, such as ventilation, the distance between people, conducting tests to ensure there are no contagions, etc.

However, the employer cannot do this in people’s homes. And, therefore, the safety regulations implemented by each person will be the responsibility of said person.

3.- In order for a disease to be classified as an occupational hazard, there must be a cause-effect with the work environment.

He explains: “In this case, the environment in which the contagion occurred is the worker’s home where there are not and there cannot be, for privacy reasons, controls established by the employer in order to see who enters and leaves the home and what are the conditions in which they live. Therefore, it is not possible to determine what the origin of the disease was.”

The lawyer from the De la Vega & Martínez Rojas Firm, told El Sol de México that many companies state that the satisfaction and productivity levels of their employees have increased since they started home office work.

And that the cost of payment of the internet, electricity, ergonomic chats, among others, is lower than the payment of rents, office spaces, parking spaces.