I work from home - Can I still make a work injury claim?

Concerned homeworker sitting at his desk

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), more people are injured at home than anywhere else. Working from home can expose employees to these everyday hazards, and create additional risks too.

If you have been injured or made ill while working from home, you may be entitled to make a work accident claim.

Although working from home (WFH), remote and hybrid working are now common, many employees remain unaware of their rights regarding home working health and safety. Many employers are also unaware of their obligations to their remote workers.

This article considers the varied health and safety risks that homeworkers face, the duty of care that employers owe to homeworkers, and whether you can claim compensation if you are injured when working from home.

What health and safety hazards can affect homeworkers?

Homeworkers are exposed to many of the same hazards faced by office and admin staff. Businesses are likely to follow best practice when it comes to the assessment, management and monitoring of in-office hazards, but both employers and employees tend to underestimate the need to apply these principles to remote work.

Employers must take all reasonable steps to protect their WFH staff from the risks of both physical injury and long-term ill health, including employees’ mental health.

Physical injuries

Hazards likely to cause an accident are the most obvious category of risk. These include:

  • Trailing power cables and wires
  • Files, folders, document boxes that present both a trip hazard and a potential fire risk
  • Overloaded extension cords and older electrical equipment that could start a fire or inflict an electric shock
  • Heavy file boxes and office equipment and furniture that pose the risk of a manual handling injury

Home working-related illness

Work-related, or ‘occupational’ illness can pose more of a risk to both in-office and remote workers than physical hazards. Examples include:

  • Carpal tunnel and other repetitive strain injuries, caused by the sub-optimal placement of keyboard or mouse, or failing to manage repetitive tasks like data entry over long periods of time
  • Eye strain, caused by failing to take regular breaks, poor lighting or monitor setup
  • Back injuries, arising from bad posture, an unsuitable workstation setup or poor-quality work furniture

You can claim compensation for work-related ill health, and you can also claim if an existing condition has been made worse by your work, if it can be proven that your employer failed to take reasonable steps to accommodate and manage your condition.

Homeworker's mental health

Although there are many benefits to working from home, bodies such as the NHS and the mental health charity Mind caution against WFH risks to employees’ wellbeing.

Mental health hazards affecting homeworkers include:

  • The effects of loneliness, working in a solitary environment
  • The stress of working in unsuitable conditions at home
  • A lack of management oversight, or support from co-workers, that could identify issues earlier

Your employer should take suitable steps to identify and manage mental health risks, and provide support if any issues are identified.

Injury compensation claims for mental ill health are harder to pursue than claims for physical injuries and occupational illness. However, if your health has suffered as a result of working from home, and your employer has failed to take action, you should contact a solicitor to discuss your options.

If you work from home, and have experienced workplace bullying or discrimination and you believe your employer has failed in their duty of care towards you, you may be entitled to seek redress. Non-injury employment claims are outside the scope of this article, but if you have been negatively affected by the conduct of a colleague or manager, you should seek specialist legal advice from an employment solicitor.

What must employers do to protect homeworkers?

All employers must take reasonable steps to assess and manage health and safety hazards in the workplace.

Avoidable risks should be removed, and any hazards that cannot be entirely removed must be suitably managed and monitored. Employers must also ensure that staff are provided with the training, equipment and support to work safely. These duties extend to homeworkers.

In practice, this means that your employer must ensure that:

  • Your home working environment is safe and free from avoidable hazards
  • Hazards that cannot be avoided are managed
  • Suitable equipment is provided to you, such as suitable ergonomic furniture or computer equipment
  • You receive suitable training on managing WFH dangers and long-term health hazards
  • You receive suitable monitoring and support to maintain a safe home working environment

Because your manager or HR rep is unlikely to be able to make regular trips to your home office, the most common route to fulfilling these requirements is via a home working self-assessment.

Working from home risk assessments

A home worker risk assessment is usually a form that a WFH worker must complete when they commence remote working. The process is likely to be similar to the risk assessments carried out by in-office staff.

A detailed risk assessment may also require workers to provide photos of their home workstation or office, or record a video. The process may even involve a video call with a manager or company representative, so they can complete the assessment in real time and quickly address obvious hazards.

If your employer has failed to carry out a suitable risk assessment, or failed to carry out regular monitoring of known hazards, and you are subsequently injured while working from home, you may have grounds to make a claim.

What work-related legislation applies to homeworkers?

The short answer is that all work-related laws and regulations that apply to workers generally implicitly apply to remote workers.

The modern foundation of work-related legislation is the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. This sets out the basic duty of care that employers owe to all employees. In addition, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 impose a duty on employers to undertake a risk assessment on homeworkers.

The Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969 requires employers to have appropriate employers’ liability insurance in place. If a company employs remote workers, this liability insurance must cover them too. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) recommends that these policies cover WFH staff as standard.

This compulsory insurance partly exists to pay out compensation in the event an employee is injured.

Companies that have only recently implemented home working should check that their employers’ liability insurance does cover remote work, and that they are fulfilling whatever terms apply to WFH (such as risk assessments). If the policy doesn’t cover home working, the insurer may still be required to pay out compensation award or settlement, but will then sue the business to recover their losses.

What injuries can I claim for?

As a homeworker, you can claim for any injury or illness you have sustained during the course of your work. You have the same right to claim as an in-office worker, and your employer owes you the same duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure you are working in a safe environment.

If your employer has failed to take these steps to protect you from harm, and you are injured as a result, you are likely to have a claim.

When is a remote employee considered to be ‘working’?

Although homeworking is not a totally new phenomenon, there remains considerable confusion regarding the line between work and home life. Your eligibility to claim compensation for a homeworking injury could hinge on where this line is drawn.

Two recent cases have shed some light on how courts could define the professional and personal spheres:

  • In one case, the court ruled that a man who slipped while walking from his bed to his home office was commuting, in his place of work, and eligible to claim compensation for a serious back injury.
  • In another, a WFH airline call centre operative successfully claimed compensation after slipping down the stairs during her lunch break.

Homeworking injury case law is still very much evolving. The rise in home working will see a rise in WFH injury claims, but it is likely that each claim will be decided on the facts of the case.

The more closely your injury or illness relates to your work, the more likely a claim will be to succeed. If the accident happened at your desk, during office hours, you will have a stronger claim.

If your accident happened out of hours, or as a result of changes you made to your workspace after a risk assessment had been carried out, recovering compensation may be more challenging.

Can homeworkers make a claim for occupational illness?

Yes. As is the case with work accidents, homeworkers are entitled to the same degree of management and monitoring of occupational illness hazards as in-office workers.

You have the same rights to claim for occupational illness compensation regardless of whether you work in-office or from home. If you have developed a work-related health condition, as a result of your work, you may be entitled to claim compensation.

To make a successful claim for a health condition you developed as a result of your working from home, your solicitor will need to prove:

  • Your illness was caused by your work or working conditions, and,
  • Your employer failed in the duty of care, either by failing to carry out a sufficient risk assessment, failing to manage and monitor health risks, or failing to take suitable action once a risk was identified or reported.

Can other family members claim compensation for home working-related injuries?

Employers that own or operate business premises owe a duty of care not only to their staff, but also to visitors. A similar principle applies to home working.

A home working risk assessment should consider risks arising from the work that could also affect other members of the household, including children. These risks could include trip hazards like trailing cables, files and furniture, and electrical hazards caused by printers, PCs and other office equipment.If an employer failed to carry out a proper risk assessment, or failed to take reasonable steps to manage hazards, and a family member of a homeworker was injured as a result, there may be grounds to claim compensation.

How do I start an injury claim as a homeworker?

The first step is to contact a solicitor for a FREE initial claim assessment.

You can find out if you have a claim in minutes by speaking to a legally trained advisor on 0800 376 1001. Your solicitor will put no pressure on you to proceed with a claim.

If you have any questions, or would like to start a No Win No Fee work accident claim, we are open:

Mon-Fri 8am-9pm, Sat 9am-6pm, Sun 9:30am-5pm

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Chris Salmon, Director

Author:
Chris Salmon, Director