HM Insights

Are employers liable for employees working from home?

It is established under common law that an employer is under a duty to take reasonable care of the health and safety of its employees in all circumstances, to ensure that they are not exposed to an unnecessary risk of injury (extending to employees’ physical and mental health).

Are-employers-liable-for-employees-working-from-home.png (1)

The standard of care requires employers to assess the potential risk of injury against the harm it could cause to an employee and should take steps to put proper safety precautions in place.

The past eighteen months have seen the vast majority of the UK (and the global) population begin to undertake their employment duties from home. With the UK now lifting restrictions, a move to ‘hybrid-working’ seems to be favoured by most employers and employees to ensure continued safeguarding against COVID-19 transmission.

Whilst the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992 do not apply to domestic premises i.e. an employee’s home, an employer would still be expected to take reasonable care for their employees’ safety when working from home. An employee working from home is owed the same duty of care as an employee in the workplace. The extent of the duty of care will, however, be somewhat restricted given the limited control an employer has over domestic premises.

Employers

Employers should carry out a risk assessment of the work activities to be undertaken at home, whether the home environment is suitable for this work to be carried out and to take steps to reduce any potential risks. It should likely be sufficient for an employer to discuss the suitability and appropriate measures to be put into place rather than risk assess each individual employee’s home in person.

To be taken into consideration (dependent on the work to be done) is:-

  • Sufficient space to ensure the work can be carried out, avoiding tripping hazards/falling objects;
  • Equipment to be supplied is correct and in good working order;
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) is provided (if required).

A significant percentage of the population working from home will be in office-based jobs, involving sitting at a workstation in front of a computer screen for most of the working day. This could range from a home office, to dining rooms, living rooms or bedrooms. The workstation should be set up properly, as it would in the workplace office, ensuring screens are at the correct height and that chairs are fit for purpose. Screens at the incorrect height or desks that are too low or high can contribute to injury.

It is also good practice for employers to promote mental health and wellbeing support for their employees. An increase in working alone from home, can have an impact on the welfare of an employee and contribute to work-related stress and regular contact should be maintained by employers to employees.

Employees

An employee should carry out their own assessment of their home working space as they, too, have a duty to take reasonable care for their own safety during employment. They should review the employer’s health and safety policies to ensure the employer is applying them as set down. If the home-working space is suitable, the employee should take reasonable steps to ensure it remains suitable.

Should an employee encounter problems with home-working, whether that be through equipment or insufficient space, they should report this to their employer immediately to ensure that the matters can be rectified and to reduce the possibility of unnecessary injury or harm.

Liability of an Employer for an Accident at Home

The employer’s duty of care is limited to their responsibility for the things which they have control over i.e. their own workplace premises. In the early days of home-working, the courts were likely to be sympathetic to employers given the difficult circumstances of their lesser degree of control and the expensive reorganisation of their workforces for business to continue with little warning.

However, as home-working or hybrid-working, looks set to become the main model of employment, employers should make it a priority to ensure more robust risk assessments are carried out for the safety of employees moving forward. Courts are unlikely to be as sympathetic at this stage should a risk assessment be found to be inadequate.

As an employee has much more control over their home environment, there is a duty upon the employee to look after their own safety. However, the employer should be expected to risk assess the environment, provide and maintain the correct equipment in order for work duties to be fulfilled properly.

Should an employer carry out, or assist the employee with carrying out, adequate risk assessments, it is likely that the employer will have fulfilled their duty of care to their employee.

In general, the employer would only be responsible for injury/illness which occurred through their own negligence, namely failing to carry out adequate risk assessments, or providing equipment that is not satisfactory or fit for purpose.