All employers are legally bound to ensure that their employees are not exposed to unreasonable harm at work, both physical and psychological. This covers all employee tasks and responsibilities, including health and safety regulations and protection from bullying, harassment and stress. As such, an employer’s duty of care manifests itself in a number of different ways:
- Providing health and safety training
- Providing specialised equipment (e.g. protective clothing)
- Dealing with staff grievances promptly
- Taking allegations of misconduct seriously
- Protecting staff from discrimination
- Ensuring staff do not work excessive hours
The business case
Not only is duty of care a moral and legal obligation for all employers; it also makes sound business sense. It is in the best interest of any organisation to promote positive internal relationships and build a healthy working environment for their people because this contributes greatly towards higher staff engagement and productivity. When people feel that their health and wellbeing is a priority, their loyalty towards the company strengthens and staff retention is likely to improve as a result.
Breaching duty of care
Should an employer fail to provide the necessary duty of care, or fail to resolve a staff grievance efficiently, an employee may claim that the employer has breached their duty of care. This often has a detrimental effect on the employee’s sense of value and worth within the company, and is not conducive to high performance in the long run. If the employee deems the breach serious enough, they may also choose to resign or claim constructive dismissal through an employment tribunal.
Duty of Care: The Acas guidelines
While certain aspects relating to the health and safety of employees are easy to spot as part of risk assessments, the full parameters surrounding an employer's duty of care are not always immediately obvious. If this is the case, the Acas guidelines on duty of care can help to clarify the range of factors at play. We know from experience that top employers don't just do the bare minimum; they ensure that staff feel happy, have sufficient resources and are engaged with their work on a daily basis. This way, employers can build greater trust between employee and the business, and instill a greater sense of commitment among their best talent.
The law behind duty of care
The Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 documents all necessary employer provisions as part of their duty of care, and has been in place for some time.
- An employer has a duty of care for their employees that covers both physical and psychological wellbeing.
- As well as being a moral and legal obligation, duty of care is conducive to a positive working environment and long term productivity.
- Breaching this duty of care may result in serious repercussions for the business, such as a claim for constructive dismissal if the employee feels they have no option to resign.