The global spread of Covid-19 has left huge numbers of us working from home. Many employees have had to adapt to new routines, new systems and new (often improvised) workstations. In the absence of a crystal ball, it’s reasonable to assume this will continue for some time. But how has this impacted workers’ rights? Are you entitled to compensation if you suffer a workplace injury at home?
The short answer is that your employer still has a duty of care for your wellbeing, even when you’re working from home. At least to a point. For obvious reasons, employers can’t be held accountable for the general upkeep and maintenance of your home. However, if your job has been deemed suitable for home-working – as many jobs have – your employer would be expected to check that you’re able to carry out your work safely. If this duty is neglected, there are certain situations where you could be entitled to claim compensation.
Table of contents
- What are the laws around working from home and personal injury compensation?
- What sort of personal injuries could I claim for?
- Is my employer obliged to check that my home set-up is safe?
- What else should my employer be doing?
- How do I go about making a claim for compensation?
- Will the courts rule in my favour?
- Questions & answers
What are the laws around working from home and personal injury compensation?
At present, there are few workplace regulations relating specifically to domestic premises. This makes health and safety for homeworkers something of a hazy area. Just as every job is different, every home workplace is likely to be different too. But the bottom line is that your employer still needs to take reasonable steps to minimise the work-related injury risks you might face. As, of course, do you.
What sort of personal injuries could I claim for?
So, what sort of risks are we talking about? It could be that working continuously in your home office set-up has led to a form of repetitive strain injury (RSI). Neck pain, tennis elbow, shoulder tension, joint-swelling, wrist and hand problems, bursitis and even headaches could fall into this category.
In the case of this being caused by a poor workstation set-up, before making a claim you would need to try to rectify the situation. If there’s nothing you can reasonably do to improve things yourself, this means writing to your employer and suggesting that your existing set-up is inadequate – or even dangerous – and needs to be assessed. For a home workstation to be healthy, things to be considered include the size and height of the monitor, desk and chair. If you contact your employer and they do nothing to address your concerns, despite being aware of the discomfort you’re suffering, there is a potential claim.
On a similar note, if your employer has supplied you with home office equipment which has subsequently proved to be seriously faulty, and caused an injury or accident, there is also a potential claim. You would need to be able to show that your employer had failed to take reasonable care of your safety.
Is my employer obliged to check that my home set-up is safe?
In many cases, homeworking involves what could be termed low-risk office work. In other instances, such as employees being asked to hand-manufacture items in their own homes, there could be more obvious risks at play (having the space to safely store materials, for example).
But regardless of the type of work being done – and there are countless possibilities here – employers would be expected to assess whether your home is a suitable place to carry it out. In the current circumstances this would generally be in the form of conversation and advice, rather than an in-person visit. If your home has been fairly judged as safe for work, the onus is largely on you to keep it that way.
What else should my employer be doing?
This is a tough time for many businesses. However, your employer still has a duty not to put you under too much pressure mentally, and to ensure that your workload levels remain achievable. If you’re being forced to hit targets that are impossible, or receiving unfair performance-related threats, your employer could be acting negligently. The courts recognise mental duress in the same way they recognise physical injuries, allowing claims to be made for stress and other psychological injuries suffered at work. This could apply to a homeworking set-up just as feasibly as it could anywhere else.
Likewise, working from home doesn’t mean you no longer have the right to receive the necessary training when it comes to working safely. Employers have a legal obligation to keep you informed of health and safety guidelines, and to assess any new risks you might be facing. At present, of course, this sort of training and guidance is more likely to be online or in writing than in person.
How do I go about making a claim for compensation?
It’s important to stress that you – as the person with control over your home environment – would always be expected to take all reasonable steps to protect your own wellbeing. You should also raise any issues or hazards with your employer as soon as possible.
If through no fault of your own a work-related injury or welfare issue does arise, and you can prove your employer’s negligence, gather as much evidence for your case as possible.
This might include everything from email records and photographs to diary schedules and work logs. Similarly, if you feel the health and safety advice you’ve been given is second-rate, or that inadequate checks were made about the suitability of your home as a workplace, or that you’re not being updated on important regulatory changes, keep a note of these things. In some cases, a valid claim could arise from a number of seemingly minor issues that collectively show an overall lack of duty of care from your employer.
Importantly, you should also understand what rights you have and what your employer should be doing if you’ve been injured working from home.
Will the courts rule in my favour?
At the start of the coronavirus outbreak there were suggestions that courts would grant employers a greater degree of leniency and sympathy, given the pressures of running a business in a pandemic. Months later, however, society has become more accustomed to living with the virus.
If you have a valid injury claim and have been open and honest about exactly what’s happened to you, there is a good chance that your claim for compensation could be successful. You’ll need to be able to prove your employer has acted negligently.
If you have any questions about whether or not your injury warrants a claim, please call our team on 01225 430285, or if you prefer, we can call you back. We know your rights and can help you to understand them.