The recent lift of lockdown measures here in the UK has seen more people returning to work after being furloughed or working at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This ability to return to work has raised numerous questions regarding an employer’s duty of care. Currently, the majority of employees are not necessarily too concerned about their employer’s ability to protect them in the workplace, their main concern is regarding the risks of their commute and specifically, using public transport to get to work.
There has been a lot of confusion recently, for both employers and employees, as to whether the duty of care covers potential risks to employees during their daily commute to and from work too. Due to the fact that many people who previously would not have thought twice about their commute are now concerned about the risks of travelling, almost everyone is wondering where they stand in this regard.
Of course, taking the time to learn more about an employer’s duty of care at this current moment in time is actually incredibly beneficial in general and it is worthwhile expanding your knowledge in this regard. So, below is some more information regarding an employer’s duty of care, specifically highlighting travelling and commuting.
An employer’s duty of care
Under the law, employers have a duty of care for staff and in short, this duty of care means that they must do all they reasonably can to support the health, safety and wellbeing of anyone working for them. Employers must abide by relevant health and safety law, employment law and also common law duty of care. All employees should note that this is something required at all times, not just during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Employees should also know that the Employment Rights Act 1996 explains that they can refuse to work if they believe their health and safety is at risk. They are also permitted to take appropriate steps to protect themselves if they believe their health and safety is at risk and if you have tried to protect your, or others, health and safety then you should not suffer at work or be dismissed.
Whilst an employer’s duty of care is not just a legal responsibility, it is also a moral obligation but unfortunately, this usually extends only to the workplace or when you are undertaking business travel. With limited exceptions, this means that they do not have a duty of care during your commute and legally they do not need to assess risks faced by your travel to and from work, simply because unfortunately, travelling to work is not classified as travelling for work.
As expected, many employees are wondering whether this legal duty of care has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has put together guidance to help both employers, employees and also the self-employed understand how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic, however, there is not much information provided in regard to commuting. All that has been said is; “you should avoid using public transport where possible. If you do travel, thinking carefully about the times, routes and ways you travel will mean we will all have more space to stay safe.”.
Commuting to work during COVID-19
Whilst it may not be incredibly clear whether there has been a change in an employer’s duty of care to include commuting during the current pandemic, thankfully lots of employers are considering the risks of commuting when asking employees to return to work. As mentioned above, their duty of care is a moral obligation and many employers are taking this very seriously.
So, if you have been asked to return to work in the near future and you have any concerns at all in this regard, it is recommended that you speak directly to your employer. Ideally, you should try to reach an agreement between yourselves and, thankfully, many employers are being accommodating and flexible, especially regarding commuting to and from work.
If you would like to speak to a professional for some employment law advice, specifically looking at an employees duty of care, please do not hesitate to reach out to our team here at Nationwide Employment Lawyers. We have in-depth knowledge of The Employment Rights Act 1996 and will happily discuss your current situation in further detail in reference to this Act and help you to understand exactly where things stand legally. You can rest assured that you will only receive accurate, helpful and current employment law advice when you turn to our team.