Employer’s Duty of Care

Every UK employer has a duty of care. This is critical to the health, safety and general welfare of all employees. Not all employers are aware of the implications of the duty of care. But it doesn’t matter how small a business happens to be. Where there’s a member of staff, there’s a duty of care responsibility.

Starting Point

The starting point for an employer is to have a person who deals with health and safety matters. This person must be legally ‘competent’. In other words, he or she should be an adult with the ability to understand Health and Safety Issues.

A medium-sized or large organisation may have a trained member of staff who acts as the competent person. In a small concern, it is likely that an owner or director will take on the role.

Risk Assessment

When it comes to duty of care, the primary job of the competent person is to conduct a Risk Assessment. This must identify the health and safety risks each employee faces at work.

The outcome of the risk assessment may vary according to the size of an organisation. If it has five or more employees, the competent person has to keep a record of the assessment’s results.

The employer of such an organisation must arrange for a plan that addresses all the identified risks. He or she must also create a health and safety policy. This policy should mention the provisions that protect employee health and safety.

Furthermore, the employer must ensure each employee knows about the policy and the provisions.

Legal Position

Generally speaking, duty of care comes into force when a person or group of people do something that might reasonably harm somebody. This harm may be in the form of mental or physical injury. It’s also possible that the harm could be financial.

In the context of work, duty of care is legally binding on an employer. Put simply, an employer must abide by what the law refers to as a standard of reasonable care. The standard of reasonable care applies to a work-related matter that could injure someone. This is why a risk assessment to identify such issues is vital.

An employer may neglect this duty of care. If so, and if a problem arises, an affected employee may be able to proceed with a claim of Negligence.

Test

In 1990, the House of Lords made a judgement in Caparo Industries plc v Dickman. This judgement established a test for duty of care that has three parts. The first part relates to any harm an employee suffers. This harm must occur as a result of the action or inaction of the employer. The employer must also have been able to reasonably foresee the harm.

The second part deals with the relationship between a claimant and defendant in a duty of care legal case. The House of Lords judgement states there must be proximity in this relationship. In other words, there must be a relationship such as that between an employer and employee.

The third part concerns liability. In the eyes of the law, there should be fair, just and reasonable cause to impose a duty of care liability on an employer.

As with any legal matter, however, an employee concerned about duty of care should seek detailed advice.

Last Updated on 25 May 2021

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