Article written by Noella Gooden, Lawyer, Employment department
The Government’s Living with Covid strategy has removed one of the final hurdles towards a return to full-time office working, but many employees 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 from the risk of 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.
This case was heard in the German national courts, but it’s a useful prompt 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.
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.