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Defining an employer's duty of care

We often talk of an employer's 'duty of care' to their employees. But just what does this duty consist of?

Employers have a duty of care to their employees, which means that they should take all steps which are reasonably possible to ensure their health, safety and wellbeing. Demonstrating concern for the physical and mental health of your workers shouldn't just be seen as a legal duty - there's a clear business case, too.  It can be a key factor in building trust and reinforcing your commitment to your employees, and can help improve staff retention, boost productivity and pave the way for greater employee engagement.

Legally, employers must abide by relevant health & safety and employment law, as well as the common law duty of care. They also have a moral and ethical duty not to cause, or fail to prevent, physical or psychological injury, and must fulfil their responsibilities with regard to personal injury and negligence claims.

Requirements under an employer's duty of care are wide-ranging and may manifest themselves in many different ways, such as:

  • Clearly defining jobs and undertaking risk assessments
  • Ensuring a safe work environment
  • Providing adequate training and feedback on performance
  • Ensuring that staff do not work excessive hours
  • Providing areas for rest and relaxation
  • Protecting staff from bullying or harassment, either from colleagues or third parties
  • Protecting staff from discrimination
  • Providing communication channels for employees to raise concerns
  • Consulting employees on issues which concern them.

An employer can be deemed to have breached their duty of care by failing to do everything that was reasonable in the circumstances to keep the employee safe from harm. Employees also have responsibilities for their health and wellbeing at work - for example, they are entitled by law to refuse to undertake work that isn't safe without fear of disciplinary action.

Acas runs comprehensive training courses for employers in looking after the health and wellbeing of their employees. Visit the Acas training and business solutions section for more information.

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