2020 saw a revolution in the way many people work. With the lockdown starting in March, working at home has become the norm for millions of UK workers. Not everyone can work from home, of course, but in businesses where working remotely is feasible, the context for homeworking has shifted dramatically.
Employers Liability

Until 2020, homeworking was typically something that parents or long-distance commuters negotiated to help them balance work with their life outside work, or just something many of us did occasionally now that technology enables this type of working. Employers have now found themselves with large numbers of employees working from home every day, for many months, and which is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. This change has brought both benefits and challenges; for those who are used to daily social interaction with colleagues working remotely can be a huge change, but it has also given some people much more flexibility, with many hours and thousands of pounds saved on commuting costs and increased time at home.

We now have light at the end of the tunnel with a vaccine being rolled out, however thousands of workers and business leaders say they intend to continue with this new way of working to reap the benefits it has brought.

In Gallagher research1 amongst bosses of UK companies, 80% said that remote working would continue, with a similar number (76%) saying that their employees were keen to continue working remotely. Leaders of businesses told us that this would bring cost benefits including lower premises costs, with 29% citing savings, and 28% saying they intend to close premises as they would not need as much space.

And when speaking to employees2, they reflected these longer term changes in the way they work going forward. Around a quarter said they would work at home full time - five days a week - but the majority said they would be moving to a working pattern of some time at home and some in the office.

However remote working doesn’t come without challenges for bosses, as they are still liable for many aspects of their employee’s welfare whilst they are at home. Employers have a range of health and safety responsibilities for home workers and employers are not excused from health and safety requirements just because the employee is working from home.

But where do the responsibilities to the employer start and finish? The responsibilities of the employer in a remote-working context, depend very much on the work assigned to the employee and the equipment provided by the employer.

Although the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 establish the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the physical aspects of a workplace, such as the structural solidity of the building, fire safety and evacuation procedures, temperature and ventilation, this does not apply in the case of workers who are doing their job at home.

Therefore, an employer may not be liable for said matters at the employee’s home. However, an employer should still provide sufficient information and must encourage employees to take the necessary steps in order to ensure that their well-being is safeguarded at all times whilst performing their duties remotely.

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 apply to display screen equipment (DSE) 'users', defined as workers who 'habitually' use a computer as a significant part of their normal work. This includes people who are regular users of DSE equipment, or rely on it as part of their job. This covers you if you use DSE for an hour or more continuously, and/or you are making daily use of DSE.

Employers are required to:

  • make a risk assessment of workstation use by DSE users, and reduce the risks identified;
  • ensure DSE users take 'adequate breaks';
  • provide regular eyesight tests;
  • provide health and safety information;
  • provide adjustable furniture (e.g. desk, chair, etc.); and
  • demonstrate that they have adequate procedures designed to reduce risks associated with DSE work, such as repetitive strain injury.

Clearly it may be difficult for employers to undertake a risk assessment remotely, but employers should provide workers with advice on completing their own basic assessment at home. Gallagher offers e-learning and a self-assessment tool to help employees and employers. Click here to find out more.

This workstation checklist published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) can be used by employees. There are some simple steps people can take to reduce the risks from display screen work:

  • breaking up long spells of DSE work with rest breaks (at least 5 minutes every hour) or changes in activity
  • avoiding awkward, static postures by regularly changing position
  • getting up and moving or doing stretching exercises
  • avoiding eye fatigue by changing focus or blinking from time to time

Mental health

The shift to remote working has caused a significant increase in work related stress and anxiety. The Health & Safety Executive recorded the single largest jump in work related stress and anxiety cases in 2020, up from 607,000 cases in 2019 to 820,000 in 2020.

Home working can cause work-related stress and affect people’s mental health and being away from managers and colleagues could make it difficult to get proper support. In Gallagher research only 40% of workers3 said they felt that they have received good mental health support from their employers during the COVID-19 pandemic. If there has been a proven lack of support employees could potentially make a complaint against their employers which could lead to a legal case. Employers should therefore prioritise employee wellbeing alongside an established plan to meet their HSE legislative responsibilities – stress risk assessment, stress policy & action plan. Advice for employers includes:

Share reputational sources and suggest employees to follow advice from:

Encourage employees not to share too much information about the virus. Only articles from reputable sources should be shared.

Talk to your people. Keep in regular contact with employees. This is important whether people are in the workplace or at home. Make sure that alongside regular communication with all staff, you also communicate with line managers.

Promote access to support. Make sure any support services you provide through the workplace are advertised well and make sure people know where to go and who to talk to internally.

Use technology for work and social aspects of work. Provide equipment and support for staff to keep in touch with each other. Encourage people to maintain information conversations if they are working virtually. Create regular check in’s not just about work.

Encourage self-care. Ensure your people turn off and take time to look after themselves. Gallagher offers a range of mental health support services. Gallagher offers a range of mental health support services. Click here to find out more.

Neil Hodgson, Managing Director of Risk Management Practice at Gallagher, said: “The last year has brought about huge enforced changes in the way many people work, which if businesses manage properly can be beneficial to both them and their employees. However employers shouldn’t think that just because their workers aren’t on their premises that they have no responsibilities. It’s important that they check what their responsibilities are to avoid costly claims from employees who feel they haven’t been properly supported.”

If you have any concerns about your business or project please speak with your usual Gallagher representative. Alternatively, get in touch with the team using the below details.

For more information on employers responsibilities to home workers click here.

1. Conducted by Opinium between 26 June and 3 July amongst 1008 business leaders employing more than 250 people.
2. Research conducted by 3Gem, between 1 December and 15 December, among 3,200 respondents including 200 claims management companies, 1,000 senior decision makers in UK businesses and 2,000 UK workers.
3. As above in note 2.

This note is not intended to give legal or financial advice, and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon for such. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and/or market practice in this area. In preparing this note we have relied on information sourced from third parties and we make no claims as to the completeness or accuracy of the information contained herein. It reflects our understanding as at 31 December 2020, but you will recognise that matters concerning COVID-19 are fast changing across the world. You should not act upon information in this note nor determine not to act, without first seeking specific legal and/or specialist advice. Our advice to our clients is as an insurance broker and is provided subject to specific terms and conditions, the terms of which take precedence over any representations in this document. No third party to whom this is passed can rely on it. We and our officers, employees or agents shall not be responsible for any loss whatsoever arising from the recipient’s reliance upon any information we provide herein and exclude liability for the content to fullest extent permitted by law. Should you require advice about your specific insurance arrangements or specific claim circumstances, please get in touch with your usual contact at Gallagher.

  • Risk Management Team