Insights

Risk management when the commute is all at home

The Government’s Living with Covid strategy removed one of the final hurdles towards a return to full-time office working, but many are expected to continue working from home under the new regime.

The potential of reduced property costs combined with positive feedback about home-working from employees has seen many companies agreeing working arrangements which enable staff to continue to work from home all or part of the time. 

But despite the ending of many Covid-related mandatory requirements, welfare in the workplace remains a top priority, whether at home or company-owned premises.  Companies have a legal obligation to protect workers  and should take steps to protect their physical and mental wellbeing, wherever they are based.  

One recent case to hit headlines involved a German worker, who won a claim for injury after falling on the stairs to his home office.  The Court ruled that taking the stairs at the start of the day to his home office was solely for the purpose of starting work and an insurable activity in the interest of the employer.  

Whilst this case was heard in the German national courts, it is a useful reminder of the legal obligations on companies in the UK. There is a duty to conduct a risk assessment of the working environment for employees and to have insurance in place, wherever individuals are based.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of its employees to provide a safe place of work, a safe means of access to that place of work, a safe system of work, and safe plant and equipment. 

This includes conducting regular risk assessments of the working environment and where employers are unable to carry out a full risk assessment, it may involve asking employees to undertake a self-assessment of their workspace and equipment.  Any changes needed for a safe and healthy environment are the responsibility of the employer. 

Organisations must also ensure that their insurance covers employees working from home and must ask individual employees to check there are no restrictions imposed on them working from home by their home insurer, mortgage provider or landlord.

As well as physical safety, mental wellbeing is high on the agenda, with the Health & Safety Executive saying that stress, depression and anxiety constitute more than half of all new cases of work-related ill health. 

The Health and Safety Executive has guidance for employers on working from home arrangements and guidance on undertaking risk assessments

As well as maintaining health and safety requirements, regular assessments may be invaluable in keeping other aspects of home-working monitored and up to date, such as data privacy and confidentiality.   Diligence in managing IT issues remotely, such as applying security patches and updates, and keeping policies and processes under constant review, can make all the difference in addressing vulnerabilities and avoiding breaches.

Further Government guidance is expected to be published in April and which is expected to set out more detail to employers on the Living with Covid policy.

For advice or support with home worker agreements or policies, our specialist team of Employment Lawyers can assist. Contact Judith Curran on 01689 887 812 or email judith.curran@cwj.co.uk.

Although correct at the time of publication, the contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Please contact us for the latest legal position.