Remote Work and Employer Liability – Key Legal Considerations
The work-from-home revolution has all but taken root in the last few years, as a pandemic necessity became a new normal for many workers in the UK.
Working from home has been linked to improved productivity and morale, and has been successfully rolled out in numerous industries – but with the home now an extension of the workplace, questions begin to arise about the liability of employers for incidents occurring in domestic environments.
Are there health and safety considerations that an employer should be considering?
German Precedent Shaping WFH Liability
The recent shift of attention towards the potential for employer liability in work-from-home situations has stemmed from a landmark German legal case. The case concerned the injury of a man working from home, who slipped and fell down his home’s stairs in the process of walking to his home office; the resulting injury was a broken spine.
The man in question sought to claim compensation for the injury, not via civil claim against the business but via an employer accident insurance plan. The court ruled in his favour, enabling him to claim via insurance for a ‘workplace injury’ suffered at home – potentially setting a precedent for courts in other nations to follow.
Mandatory Risk Assessments for Remote Work
While the German case concerned the application of insurance law to new remote work environments, there are still questions to be answered about the extent to which employers are liable for at-home injuries while ‘on the clock’ – and the extent to which civil action could be relevant in the event of such an injury.
The law mandates specific risk assessment protocols for employers to ensure the safety of remote workers, addressing the unique challenges posed by work-from-home arrangements. Home visits, for example, may be necessary in situations where remote workers are disabled, or otherwise handling dangerous and hazardous equipment or materials for work purposes.
Defining Workplace Accidents in WFH
Understanding the criteria that classify incidents as workplace accidents when employees are working remotely is essential for determining employer liability, whether through insurance claims or in the unlikely event of civil action.
Workplace accidents most commonly take the form of slips, trips and falls – all of which are also extremely common at-home injuries. Other instances of liability would only stem from the use of dangerous work-mandated equipment.
Employers’ Duty of Care and Liability
There is a commonly misunderstood aspect of workplace liability when it comes to worker safety, which applies all the more in remote working situations. Civil personal injury cases are not litigated with respect to health and safety law, but rather common law – the same common law that describes a doctor’s duty of care to patients.
Since domestic environments do not fall under quite the same umbrella, it is unlikely that civil liability would extend to at-home working; however, for insurance purposes, there remains a link.