Employer's Duty of Care

By Matthew Reymes Cole
18 Nov 2020

As an employer, you have a certain set of responsibilities for your staff. This includes ensuring their wellbeing and health and safety.

In this article, we’ll look at common law and your duty of care to employees.

What is your duty of care?

What is an employer’s duty of care for workplace activities? Well, it encompasses a number of duties. The first, and most obvious, is with the main overarching duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all your employees.

This includes:

  • Illness
  • Injury
  • Mental health

There is also a duty of care for employers to ensure the Health, Safety and Welfare of non-employees. For example, contractors, visitors, and clients.

For a more legal duty of care definition, the HSE definition of a employers ‘Duty of Care’ is outlined below:

“It is an employer's duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this.”

Importance of duty of care

There are many reasons the duty of care should matter to you as an employer.

First, a safe work environment is a productive work environment. If staff have concerns regarding their wellbeing, their attitude towards work will be less positive. Actively promoting employee wellbeing will increase employee engagement. This will make your retention rate significantly better.

Second, an unsafe workplace will suffer major reputational damage, particularly if an incident occurs. If an employee suffers from a work-related illness or an accident occurs, they will hold you responsible. It can also lead to employment tribunals.

Duty of care is a legal duty. Failure to provide adequate health & safety for your employees can lead to visits for the HSE and significant fines. Next, we’ll look at exactly what you should provide…

Company obligations to employees

An employer’s duty of care includes health & safety. You must ensure that suitable safety standards are created with associated safe systems of work implemented. This includes employees who work from home.

Within this definition is a duty for employee mental wellbeing. That means safeguarding them from harassment and stress.

You can achieve this in several ways. Some methods of doing this fall under your obligation as an employer. Others don’t.

Here are some ways you can ensure your staff are safe, both mentally and physically:

  • Provide health & safety training.
  • Protect staff from discrimination.
  • Manage and address staff misconduct.
  • Manage and address grievances promptly and effectively.
  • Provide adequate equipment required to complete tasks.

Duty of care law

The duty of care law in the UK reflects the statutory duties you have as an employer. For example, the law requires you to carry out a risk assessment. This will address all risks that might cause harm in your workplace.

Another common law regarding duty of care to employees is consultation. Legally, you must consult employees on any health & safety risks they’ll face as part of their role.

These are just some of your responsibilities from a health & safety standpoint. To find out more about what the law requires of you, get health & safety support today.

And remember—If you cannot do everything that was reasonably possible to prevent an accident or work-related illness, then you are likely to be in breach of duty of care.

Mental health – employers duty of care

Earlier, we touched briefly on the fact that mental health comes under the umbrella of an employers’ duty of care. There are many aspects to mental health in the workplace, but the most common issues are stress, depression, and anxiety.

It's tricky to have conversations regarding these issues in the workplace, but they are vital to ensuring wellbeing and productivity.

There are ways to manage mental health in the workplace. One employee benefit that has come under the spotlight in recent months is the employee assistance programme (EAP).

An EAP provides your employees with a support network outside of work. It involves a network of counsellors and mental health experts to provide support to your employees.  You can find out more about our EAP here.

We also have some resources available for dealing with issues like stress in the workplace.

Duty of care examples

A simple but effective example of your duty of care would be this:

An employee informs their manager they’re suffering from Repetitive Strain Injury in their wrists. As an employer, you can then provide them with a specialist keyboard. This will allow them to continue working normally until they recover.

Another example would be to provide extra access points for those in your business with a disability. This will ensure they don’t struggle to exit and enter your premises and show that you take their wellbeing seriously.

Expert support

If you need further guidance with your duty of care or have another health & safety issue, speak to one of our expert advisers today on 0145 585 8132.

About the Author

Matthew Reymes-Cole

Matt joined Croner in 2007 as an employment law consultant and has advised clients of all sizes on all aspects of employment law. He has worked within management positions since 2017 and currently oversees a team within the litigation department, whilst continuing to support a number of clients directly.