Work from home injuries: Who is liable?

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Work from home injuries

A lot has happened in the last few years. After we were sent into lockdown in March 2020, many businesses were forced to send everyone home. Where once it was typical for workers to do the daily commute, hopping into the car or squeezing onto packed trains, we were all suddenly set up in the corner of the kitchen or on the sofa in the living room.

Since then, our home office setups have become more permanent and hybrid working has become typical for many companies. From September 22 to January 23, 44% of workers reported home or hybrid working and well over half (56%) reported only travelling to work in the last seven days. While UK-based employees have returned to the office since restrictions were fully lifted, it seems that many of us are still splitting our time working at home and in our place of work.

But with so many people working from home for some or all of the time, the lines about who is liable if an employee suffers and accident while WFH have become blurred. Who is responsible if a worker takes a tumble on work time? What does the law say?

As we continue to adjust to a post-pandemic world, it’s important that businesses and employees know where they stand when something happens while working from home.

What happened in Germany

What happened in Germany?

As we adjusted to working from home at least part of the time, there were question marks around whether people were entitled to the same rights and benefits if they aren’t in the workplace. Then, in late 2021, a German court appeared to answer this.

A man slipped and broke his back while he was on his way downstairs to his home office. The Federal Social Court ruled that he could claim insurance. This ruling was based on the concept that the path the man took to the office could be classed as a ‘commute’.

The official line from the court was that: “If the insured activity is carried out in the household of the insured person or at another location, insurance cover is provided to the same extent as when the activity is carried out at the company premises.” So, remote workers should receive equal cover from insurance as those who work in person.

With blended working models becoming the everyday, could we see rulings like this in the UK? In short, it’s unlikely. Employers are responsible for ensuring the business’ premises are safe, but they have no control over the employee’s premises. Also, employees should know of any safety issues in their own home.

What counts as a workplace accident?

A workplace accident at home should be reported if it occurred as a direct result of the work being done. It also counts if it occurred due to the equipment the employer provided to carry out the work.

However, it’s worth understanding what your employer is responsible for before you make any personal injury claims.

Although workplace health and safety rules don’t apply to domestic settings, employers may still be liable for injuries that occur on work time. If an suffers a workplace injury at home and hasn’t been provided with an adequate risk assessment or thoroughly assessed equipment, employers may be liable for injury claims.

Health and safety assessments

It’s not reasonable to expect employers to assess every employee’s home – especially when there are those in some organisations that are working on remote contracts and are based in different locations around the UK.

However, under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, the risk to remote workers must be managed to a suitable standard. Here, employers have the same liability for the accident and injury of remote workers as any other workers.

Health and safety assessments

In most cases, the employer is unable to visit the employee to conduct this assessment, so questionnaires, self-assessments, and video calls should be used as suitable substitutes. The level of risk assessment required will depend on the circumstances. For instance, a rudimentary self-assessment procedure will be in place for most employees. But a home visit or a detailed video call will be appropriate if the employee has a disability or uses hazardous tools, for example.

So, unless an adequate risk assessment has been carried out, employers may be responsible for injuries or accidents that occur while employees are working from home.