Legal Responsibilities for Remote Workers’ Safety

Legal Responsibilities for Remote Workers’ Safety

Chris Salmon of Quittance Legal Services explains the legal responsibilities employers have for ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of their remote working staff

By Chris Salmon

Employers owe the same duty of care to all staff, whether they are working from the office or from home. However, managing this theoretical duty has suddenly become a practical challenge for many companies. 

A critical requirement that employers must observe in relation to homeworkers is the ‘at-home risk assessment’. Failure to do so may see an employer found liable if one of their staff is injured or becomes ill as a result of their remote working conditions.

What the law says

Legislation, including the Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999, ensures that employers are responsible for the health and safety of homeworking staff. Employers must, therefore, carry out a suitable assessment on a remote worker’s environment, in order to identify and manage risks. This assessment often takes the form of an at-home risk assessment. 

The case law on the scope of employers’ duties to homeworkers is still evolving. Employers and HR managers should consider taking a broad approach to an at-home risk assessment. This wider scope could mean considering hazards unique to the home environment, such as the presence of children and even pets. 

Although studies show that many workers thrive when working from home, the regulations require that mental health risks may also need to be considered in the assessment.

What should an at-home risk self-assessment check?

In many cases, an at-home risk assessment will be similar to the process used to assess health and safety risk to office workers. 

The assessment should seek to ensure that:

Specifically, the self-assessment should:

How to do a home assessment

HR managers and health and safety reps can create their own self-assessment questionnaire for the homeworker to complete. The assessment form could be adapted from similar material already used for in-office assessments. Alternatively, there are many self-assessment templates available online

Given the sudden and unforeseen shift to homeworking triggered by the spread of Covid-19, it may be appropriate for your business to address the assessment in two stages: 

1. Phase one would be a more generic self-assessment template, to ensure the basic risks are promptly addressed.

2. Phase two would involve devising a bespoke self-assessment to fit the circumstances of your company and its workforce and would include a more detailed assessment of at-risk workers, such as those with existing health conditions. 

As an alternative to asking employees to complete a questionnaire, some employers (particularly for smaller teams) are experimenting with ‘assisted assessments’ via video call. The employee could use a mobile device to walk their employer through their work setup, allowing for a more detailed assessment. 

Although the video call option is more time-consuming, and may not be an option for firms with sudden large numbers of new homeworkers, this approach has two additional benefits: 

1. A video assessment helps to normalize video communication between the worker and management, helping to reduce feelings of disconnection and isolation. 

2. The call is also more flexible than a checklist and allows for a more holistic assessment of a worker’s health and safety to be carried out. 

Apps are available to allow for video calls to be recorded, but the call should not be seen as an alternative to self-assessment paperwork. An assessment form should still be completed, perhaps during the call, to ensure an audit trail is in place. 

To summarize

Whatever method you use, it's critical that both the employer and employee embrace the principle of the assessment, rather than treating it as a box-ticking exercise. 

As a priority, the risk assessment must seek to protect employees from the risk of injury and occupational illness. The assessment also exists to protect the firm, ensuring that in the event of a work injury claim, the employers’ liability (EL) insurance is not invalidated. The fitness of the company’s current EL policy should be reviewed to ensure it's sufficient to cover current remote working arrangements. 

Although we're all living and working in uncertain times, HR representatives must ensure that the physical safety and mental health of homeworking employees do not become an afterthought.

About the Author

Chris Salmon is the Operations Director of Quittance Legal Services, a national personal injury solicitor panel in the UK. For the past 25 years, the panel has delivered exceptional legal services to customers based throughout England, Wales and Scotland.