Employer's duty of care – what it means for you

All employers – from small start-ups to big corporations – have a duty of care for employees. Whether you’re employing one person or a team of 25, you have a legal requirement to provide duty of care to your workers. And if you're a staff member, it helps you feel healthy and safe at work. But what does this actually mean?

Duty of care covers everything from feeling safe at work and prevention of injury to stopping harassment and giving advice on healthy eating. These measures are required by law, but don’t worry – there are lots of resources available to help you make sure you’re delivering the goods. Here we look at what duty of care means for you as an employer and employee.

What does duty of care look like?

An employer's duty of care is wide-ranging. Generally speaking, it covers a company’s legal and ethical duty to prevent physical and psychological harm to staff. That could be anything from an injury caused by a machine to stress from working excessive hours. If work negatively affects you or one of your employees' wellbeing, that’s a duty of care issue.

A duty of care programme is extensive. The protective boots that meet health and safety regulations, the disciplinary procedures that safeguard against discrimination and the fire-drill posters on the wall are all part of duty of care.

Duty of care for employees

Concerned about your wellbeing at work? Talk to your human resources team, line manager or health and safety representative. If they can't help, ask the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for advice about your employment rights and responsibilities. Guidance is free, confidential and impartial, so you needn't worry about getting into trouble with your employer.

It’s also a good idea to know your obligations as an employee. These include taking care of your own safety and those affected by what you do (or don’t), and following your workplace training.

Been unfairly dismissed or forced to leave a job because your employer hasn’t provided duty of care? You can make a claim at an employment tribunal. Check the government’s website to see if you have good grounds. If you win your case, you could get compensation, improve working conditions and even win your job back (if you want it).

Duty of care for employers

As an employer, you must respect health and safety, employment and duty of care laws. Responsibilities include controlling risks of staff injury or poor health – that’s everything from stopping harassment to setting up workstations that help avoid back pain.

To find out more about your obligations, check out the HSE website for advice on how to:

  • Handle assessments which identify any health and safety risks
  • Deal with personal injury claims
  • Investigate allegations of misconduct.

Want to know how other businesses boost employee wellbeing? A recent survey by the CIPD found that 43% of employers offer access to a counselling service, 34% advise on healthy eating and 30% subsidise gym membership. If you're concerned about the cost, just think about all the money lost to absenteeism: government stats showed that, in 2015/6, a whopping 30.4 million working days were lost through work-related injury or illness.

Duty of care is win-win

As an employer, there are tools available to help you maintain duty of care. Survey Monkey lets businesses gather opinions from their workers anonymously online. That way, they can build on the good stuff and address the bad.

Face-to-face time is essential, too. Talking with your staff is the best way to create an environment where people communicate and recognise each other’s good work. A little bit of talking and listening goes a long way. In fact, companies who spend up to 1% of payroll on recognition are 79% more likely to see better financial results.