While all restrictions have been removed under the Government’s Living with COVID-19 strategy, many employees will continue to work from home or have a combination of office and home based working.
This presents opportunities for the employer to save property costs and employees to retain some much valued work-life balance. However, it is important to remember that welfare in the workplace remains a top priority, whether this is at home or company-owned premises and that employers have a legal obligation to protect workers from risks to physical and mental wellbeing, wherever they are based.
For example, recent headlines highlighted the case of a German worker who won an injury claim 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 from his bedroom was solely for the purpose of starting work and an therefore an insurable activity in the interest of the employer.
While this case was heard in the German courts, it is a useful reminder of the legal obligations on employers in the UK. In particular, there is a duty to conduct a risk assessment of the working environment for all employees and to have insurance in place, wherever individuals are based.
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 employers are required to:
- take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of its employees,
- provide a safe place of work,
- provide a safe means of access to that place of work,
- provide a safe system of work, and
- provide safe plant and equipment.
This requires 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 themselves 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 and should be implemented swiftly.
Employers 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 own home insurer, mortgage provider or landlord.
As well as physical safety, mental wellbeing needs to be monitored and the Health & Safety Executive have highlighted that that stress, depression and anxiety constitute more than 50 per cent of new cases of work-related ill health.
Regular risk assessments are vital for maintaining health and safety requirements, but can also ensure other aspects of home working are monitored and up to date, such as data privacy and confidentiality. Diligence in managing IT issues remotely, such as security updates, and keeping policies and processes under constant review, play an important part in addressing vulnerabilities and avoiding breaches.