The majority of the focus with regards to personal injury claims at work falls on corporate entities. Whether a public body, charitable association or business these parties have a legal obligation to ensure the well-being of their employees as well as their customers. It is therefore perhaps understandable that the role of employees receives significantly less coverage. So, what are the legal obligations of employees with regards to accidents, injuries and personal injury claims?
Legal obligation to fellow employees and customers
In reality, employers can put in place procedures, safety regulations and train their staff every other week, but there is a need for employees to abide by the rules. We have seen many situations where employees have suffered injuries as a consequence of “accidents” when in reality they have been negligent (or they have caused others to have an accident). Also, let’s not forget, all employees have a legal obligation to act in a manner which also safeguards other employees and customers.
In some cases it can be difficult to prove liability when an employee fails to abide by company rules and regulations leading to an accident and injury. There are many aspects to take into consideration such as:-
- Did they receive the correct training?
- Are the business premises safe?
- Is there sufficient safety signage?
- Did their experience match the role assigned to them?
- Was the equipment safe to use?
The best way to highlight potential issues where employees have failed to abide by company rules and regulations is to give some classic examples.
Ignoring machinery safety guidelines
Unfortunately, time and time again we hear of employees “taking shortcuts” and effectively ignoring safety guidelines for specific pieces of machinery. It may be something as simple as not pulling down the safety guard, not wearing a hard hat, not wearing gloves or failing to use a seatbelt when driving a vehicle (or when a passenger). We have seen instances where individuals have claimed they were put under “undue pressure” to be more efficient and more productive but this can be difficult to prove.
There are many occasions where innocent members of staff, and customers, become a victim of un-safe practices. This then prompts the question; if the employer is not liable then maybe the employee is liable?
Refusing to take breaks
Those who drive vehicles away from their working environment will know that very often your reaction times will be compromised if you are tired. It is a medical fact, if you are mentally or physically tired then your brain reaction time is slowed which can lead to serious accidents and injuries. So, it is fair to say that refusing to take breaks in the workplace can also be a danger to the individual and other employees/customers.
The only real way that employers can defend their position is to create working practice instructions which all staff should receive and abide by. We have seen situations where employees have been pressurised to hit targets and cut their breaks but again this can be difficult to prove in a court of law. What you were told to do, via working practice instructions, and what you choose to do, in the event of subtle pressure, are two very different things. Subtle persuasion can obviously make a big impact in the workplace but proving that you were “pressurised” can be very difficult. If you broke the rules, you broke the rules.
The above two examples give an idea of scenarios where employees may have veered away from working practices put in place. This is why employers have a legal obligation to continually update their staff with regards to health and safety and new procedures in the workplace. Yes, they are ticking boxes and covering their own back but they are also looking to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees and customers. However, what can an employer do if an employee constantly ignores safety regulations?
Official warnings and suspension
If it comes to light that an employee is constantly ignoring safety regulations and putting themselves/other members of staff and potentially customers at risk, then an employer will be obliged to act. The overriding liability of the employer relates to the safety and well-being of their employees and customers. So, if they are made aware of unsafe practices then they are legally obliged to act.
There was a temptation to place verbal warnings on this list but where health and safety are involved it is difficult to justify a simple ticking off. As an employer, the best way to protect a company from legal action is to issue an official warning which goes on the employee’s record. It also makes sense to take into account other issues such as:-
If an employee is refusing to abide by safety regulations then there is an argument for placing them on a retraining programme. It will obviously depend upon the severity of the incident but this may see them removed from the workplace while they are made aware of their legal obligations. This additional training would be on top of regular training updates that employers are legally obliged to provide to all employees.
There may be occasions where the severity of an employee’s actions/inactions is such that immediate suspension is the only answer. This type of decision is never taken lightly but would reflect the company’s legal obligations and the actions of the employee. In some cases it can be difficult for employees to regain the trust of their colleagues in the event of a suspension. However, employers must also protect not only themselves but other members of staff, customers and some employees from themselves.
Change of roles
There may be some situations where an individual simply does not have the appropriate experience/skills to carry out a particular role. This situation should be few and far between because an employer is legally obliged to match an individual’s skills/experience with a particular role from the outset. If it became obvious the role was beyond the skills/experience of an employee then maybe it was an incorrect decision to put them in that role in the first place?
Unfortunately, such is the legal obligation on employers to maintain the well-being of their employees and customers that sometimes they may be dragged into a personal injury claim and found partially negligent. While an employee may also be found partially negligent, the courts may rule that the employer:-
- Failed to provide adequate training
- Failed to supervise employees
- Did not act quickly enough on previous complaints
- Placed an employee in a situation beyond their skills/experience
In the event of a partial negligence ruling the employer would be expected to pay a percentage of any compensation awards. It would depend on the severity of the actions of the employee in question but they may also leave themselves open to potential legal action from other members of staff/customers.
Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
Many people may be unaware but the Health and Safety Work Act 1974 places a legal obligation on employers AND employees to ensure the well-being of those around them. We have seen a number of situations where employees have tried to shift the blame for their own actions onto their employers. In these cases, where there is evidence that the employee ignored company guidelines, the employee may find themselves on the wrong end of a personal injury compensation claim. Indeed, those who were injured as a consequence of their own actions may also find it difficult/impossible to claim any kind of compensation from their employers.
It is quite rare to see employees taken to court by fellow employees/customers. In reality the legal obligation on employers is such that they have to act as quickly as possible in the event of a safety breach – even those where there are no injuries. The idea is that acting as quickly as possible will cut down the number of safety breaches, potential injuries and court cases. It is safe to say that the life of an employer can be extremely challenging!
No person/company is above the law
The vast majority of people are under the assumption that it is only employers who can be taken to court to claim compensation for injuries received as a consequence of negligence. However, if the employer is able to prove they took all reasonable action to prevent such accidents and injuries then they may be able to fight claims of negligence/liability. In years gone by it may have been easier for an employee who breached safety regulations to shift the blame to their employer, but the laws today are much more stringent, recognising the actions/inactions of all parties.
If you have been involved in an accident at work which was the fault of a fellow employee, flaunting company safety regulations, then you may well need to take action against the employee as opposed to your employer. There are few things that a personal injury claims solicitor has not seen before and they will be able to review your case and advise you of the appropriate action.