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How liable are employers for homeworker accidents?

‘A man’s home is his castle’ – and sometimes, it seems, it is his federally approved place of work too. That’s according to a recent German case, in which a court ruled that a man who slipped on his own stairs and broke his back making his way from his bed to his home office was entitled to workplace accident insurance compensation for his injuries. 

The court ruled that the claimant was undertaking a journey to begin work and ‘If the insured activity is carried out in the household of the insured person, or at another location, insurance cover is the same, as if the activity were carried out at the company premises’.

COULD WE SEE SIMILAR CASES IN THE UK?

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, blended office working models have become the norm in many sectors. And with slips and trips accounting for approximately 30% of all workplace injury claims every year in the UK, this decision is likely to unnerve employers.

Thankfully, there are distinctions. The German case centred on the interpretation of the statutory accident insurance. As a national, compulsory programme, this insures workers for injuries or illness incurred through their employment, or the commute to or from their employment.

While similar occupational personal accident insurance is available in the UK, it is certainly not mandatory nor routinely provided by employers. Employers carrying on business in Great Britain are, however, required to insure against liability for bodily injury or disease sustained by employees and arising out of and in the course of their employment.

EMPLOYERS’ LIABILITY AND DUTY OF CARE

This raises the question: if a similar accident occurred to an employee working from home in England, what approach would the English courts adopt when considering the question of employer’s liability?

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 removed civil liability arising from breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the regulations made under it. In order to establish liability in a claim for personal injuries against an employer, an employee must establish that the employer was negligent by breaching their common law duty resulting in the employee suffering foreseeable harm. At common law, an employer is under a duty to take reasonable care of the health and safety of its employees in all the circumstances of the case so as not to expose them to an unnecessary risk. 

The employer’s duty includes the provision safe premises and a safe place to work. This covers premises owned or occupied by the employer as well as those of third parties. There have been no reported cases of an employee bringing a claim against an employee for injuries arising from the safety of their own premises. 

Were such a claim to be made, it is unlikely that liability would be found against the employer. The duty to provide a safe place of work is not absolute – rather the employer must act reasonably to ensure premises are safe. The employer has no control over the employee’s premises. The employee could also be expected to know of any safety issue with their own premises and take steps to ensure their own safety.

With large swathes of the workforce now regularly working from home, it is both impractical and unreasonable to expect employers to inspect every employee’s home to assess the safety of the premises. 

However, this does not mean does not mean employers should become complacent. The duty is owed to each individual employee so the standard of care will vary depending on the circumstances of the case. A home visit should be considered if, for example, the employee has a disability or uses hazardous items or tools. Similarly, if an employer is placed in notice of a safety issue with the employee’s premises, a home visit to assess the risk should be made.

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