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Covid-19 and employers’ liability risks

With home-working becoming the norm rather than the exception and the provision of PPE suddenly a universal issue, the Covid-19 crisis is presenting significant challenges around employers’ liability risks.

One key question being raised, according to James Shrimpton at legal firm Kennedys, is ‘could employers be held liable in the event of infection with the virus?’

James commented: “Any employer able to prove it has kept abreast of government advice and, more importantly, can prove it has interpreted and applied that general advice carefully, should be well-placed to defend claims brought against it. Furthermore, proving causation of infection is likely be extremely difficult.

“However, employers must ensure that they approach any risks around Covid-19 as they would any other risk to the health and wellbeing of employees, taking sensible steps to discharge their duty of care and to document their assessment and adopted policies.”

He added: “Being able to demonstrate you considered the risks carefully and took sensible steps to mitigate those risks will be crucial evidence in defence of any subsequent claim. If someone becomes infected at work in the absence of evidence of such steps having been taken, the employer is vulnerable to being found in breach of duty and liable for losses arising.”

Excellent guidance

David Reynolds, RiskSTOP’s Head of Risk Engineering and Surveys, said: “Kennedys have produced some excellent guidance around Covid-19, highlighting a number of key considerations for employers.

"These include ensuring home-workers, for example, are afforded the same level of care as those on their employer’s premises and that they are properly equipped to fulfil the tasks expected of them."

He added: “Kennedys' guide also explores issues around risk assessments and reviewing these as government guidance changes, as well as risks associated with staff covering for colleagues, especially those using equipment and machinery or performing tasks they are not familiar with.”

Although Kennedy’s guide focuses on employers’ liability claims, it also forms an excellent template for understanding liability risks at the present time and will be useful to underwriters, brokers and their clients. It can be downloaded here.



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