It is incumbent on all employers to ensure their employees are safe in the course of their employment, but what steps should employers be taking to comply with that duty in respect of COVID19 and what are the risks to employees?

We are living in unprecedented times, faced with the threat of a highly infectious, dangerous virus, which, most people, will have never experienced or  contemplated.  People’s lives have changed immeasurably and some are coping better than others. Government guidance is not always clear and it is the responsibility of all of us to ‘stay safe’ and take steps to control the spread of this virus. This places an increased burden on employers, both to ensure they comply with the law and Government guidance in relation to COVID 19 but also to assess the increased risks to employees’ physical and mental health caused by, for example, sickness, increased workload, homeworking and the increased demands on those caring for vulnerable people, young children and those that need to be home-schooled.

There is a legal duty imposed on employers to take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees whilst in the course of their employment.

An employer has a duty to carry out risk assessments in order to identify risks to the health and safety of their employees and, then, to take all reasonable steps to reduce that risk to the lowest level possible. In respect of reducing the spread of COVID19, this will mean, at the very least, ensuring they comply with Government guidelines. Those guidelines state that those who can work from home should do so. For those who need to go to work, employers must protect  their health and safety in the workplace, by, for example, ensuring people are able to socially distance, that there is a strong cleaning regime in place, adequate sanitising / handwashing stations and, where appropriate, suitable PPE is provided. However, what about those employees who are asked to cover the work of sick or self-isolating colleagues?  For those who are asked to undertake a role that they have never done before or been trained on? For those whose workload has become unmanageable causing fatigue and anxiety? An employer’s duty will almost certainly extend to cover these scenarios and, if it results in injury, liability may well be established. Furthermore, your employer may be liable if you suffer an injury at work as a result of a colleague’s negligence arising out of these scenarios or others. As far as the law stands, an employer is vicariously liable for the negligence of their employees in the course of their employment.  Could this this also extend to a member of staff experiencing symptoms but failing to self-isolate and going into work?

For those homeworkers, employers will need to ensure the design and ergonomics of workstations are adequate to avoid musculoskeletal problems, or issues with eyesight / headaches and that employees have the necessary resources available to them to carry out their role.  They will also need to ensure employees are given the support and flexibility they need to care for any vulnerable family members, young children and home-schooled children, to help manage the increased stress, anxiety, and fatigue that comes with this.

As specialist personal injury practice, Ralli are able to provide advice on all these issues.

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