Duty of care is not just a health and safety consideration
Duty of care is often thought of as purely a part of the health and safety obligations of an employer – things like ensuring adequate H&S training is given to staff; making sure safety equipment is provided and ensuring safe entry and exit from workplaces etc.
However, there is a definite overlap between health and safety law and employment law in terms of fulfilling your duty of care to employees and both areas need to be given equal consideration.
Ensuring employees do not work excessive hours is an area where both health and safety and employment laws play a part. Working hours are partly enforced by the Health and Safety Executive, and partly by an Employment Tribunal. Maximum working hours, limits on hours worked per day and per week are set out in the Working Time Regulations 1998, as is a minimum amount of annual leave to be taken per leave year.
Unless specific exemptions apply, employers should ensure that employees do not work more than 48 hours per week, taken as an average over a 17 week period. It is possible, however, for employees to opt out of this restriction.
Other considerations include protection from bullying, harassment and discrimination. A zero tolerance approach to any kind of discriminatory treatment or harassment (bullying on the grounds of a protected characteristic that someone has – their race, age or gender for example) is advised. This means that you will treat all allegations of bullying seriously and take action against those who are found to have engaged in bullying behaviour.
Comprehensive channels of communication are another important feature of complying with your duty of care. These can clearly be in place as part of various arrangements but the underlying principle is that employees are able to be kept informed about anything which occurs within an organisation that may impact on them. They may also be used to allow a flow of information from employees to management too. This, specifically, is a key feature to enable staff to raise any problems they may be having about their duties, their role in general or about working relationships with other staff.
Formal complaints should certainly be dealt with via a grievance procedure but it can help to have other lines of communication open to deal with issues on an informal basis. An ‘open door’ approach is a good way of achieving this. Communication channels may also incorporate giving feedback on work performance – both constructive and good.
The inclusion of an employee assistance programme within a workplace is significantly on the rise because they are recognised to reduce employee absences which may be caused by stress.
Failure to recognise your duty of care may provide employees with sufficient cause to make a claim to tribunal or, alternatively, give rise to enforcement from health and safety authorities.
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