Home working law: Legal responsibilities of employers

May 07, 2020

Home working law: legal responsibilities

Over a month into lockdown, millions of first-time homeworkers are now expecting to continue working remotely for the foreseeable future. For many employers, this is also the first time they have had to consider their legal obligations towards home workers.

Understanding the law on homeworking

Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, employers must “make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work”.

“Whilst they are at work” does not mean “on company premises”. Instead, “at work” means “whilst the employee is working”. The 1974 Act, and many other laws and regulations that have come later, does not make a distinction between workers on company property, workers in public or elsewhere, or homeworkers. The health and safety of all employees must be protected.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 goes further and states that “employers are responsible for the health and safety of homeworkers, as far as is reasonably practicable”.

Employers can be in no doubt that they owe the same duty of care to homeworkers as they do to other staff.

How can employers fulfil their duty of care to homeworkers?

Managing a team remotely will present an unexpected challenge for many companies. Most businesses that have instructed staff to work from home have done so for explicitly health and safety reasons. At home, staff are more protected from the risk of coronavirus infection.

Regardless of the reasons for doing so, working from home still presents new health and safety risks. Employers must take steps to manage and remove these new risks where it is reasonable to do so.

The challenge of homeworking health and safety

Just as the same regulations apply, the process for making a homeworking environment safe is fundamentally the same as for an office, warehouse or another workplace. By law, risk assessments must be carried out.

In order to carry out a home worker risk assessment, employers and HR staff will usually provide a self-assessment form for the worker to complete. This self-assessment gives homeworkers the framework to assess their own workspace, using a detailed checklist and questions.

Carrying out a risk assessment for homeworkers

If the company doesn’t have an at-home risk assessment document already, there are plenty of templates online. The template approach will get the basics covered as soon as possible if a business needs to safeguard many homeworkers in a short time.

If a more detailed assessment is required, the company can circulate a more detailed questionnaire in due course.

The company’s employers’ liability insurance should already cover homeworking staff, but the small print of the policy should be checked. If the risk assessment (and management of any risks) falls below the standard required by the policy, and a worker is injured, the insurers may sue the company for breaching the terms of the policy.

Managing homeworking risks

Once risks have been identified, both employers and employees should collaborate and take action to improve the homeworker’s safety. This could include:


  • Setting regular breaks from screen time to help reduce the risk of eye strain
  • Providing wrist rests and other ergonomic tools to reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome and other strain and repetitive task-related conditions
  • Helping the employee to manage cables and other trip hazards
  • Drafting a fire safety plan
  • Managing the risks posed by (and to) other members of the household, including children and pets
  • Providing advice and even signage where appropriate to identify and manage risks that cannot be removed entirely

Key takeaways

In summary, if you run a business and have some or all of your staff suddenly working from home, you should consider the following:

  • You must carry out a risk assessment on homeworker’s workspaces
  • After the assessment, you must implement the measures needed to help protect your staff. This could include supplying ergonomic furniture or tools, providing guidance about trip or fire hazards and whatever other reasonable methods are required
  • You should supply employees with a suitable health and safety policy
  • You should review your Employer’s Liability insurance policy and update it if required

Employees should recognise that they have responsibilities too. Homeworkers must complete the assessment accurately, to the best of their knowledge.

Whether in the office or the home, even the most robust health and safety policies cannot prevent all accidents at work. Some accidents are simply not foreseeable, and others can happen even when all reasonable precautions have been taken. This is why the assessment and management of the avoidable risks is so important.

Both employers and employees owe a duty to ensure all reasonable precautions are taken, reducing the risk of injury and illness wherever it is possible to do so.

Chris Salmon

Co-founder and Director of Quittance Legal Services

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