An employer has a duty of care. For instance, the employer has an obligation to protect the safety and health of his employees. In order to prevent employees from suffering damage during the performance of their duties, the employer must take measures. These measures include implementing a policy and giving safety instructions to employees.
With the advent of the #MeToo movement and anti-discrimination measures, the home-working policy during the Covid-19 pandemic and the growth of long COVID patients infected in the workplace, attention to the employer’s duty of care has increased. Employers are even more expected to ensure a safe working environment and atmosphere to prevent employees from suffering damages during work.
Seliz Demirci, employment lawyer at GMW lawyers discusses the content and scope of the employer’s duty of care in light of current topics.
Employers must prevent employees from suffering damage in the performance of their duties. Therefore, Dutch law stipulates that an employer must take the necessary measures. The concept of damage includes both physical and psychological damage. Psychological damage is particularly relevant in the context of sexual harassment. Does an employer breaches his duty of care? Then it is up to the employee to prove the existence of damage. He also has to prove that this damage arose in the performance of their duties. Did proven damage occur? Then the employer needs to prove their liability. The employer’s liability lapses if they demonstrate that they have fulfilled their duty of care. Is the employer not able to prove that they have taken the required measures for a safe working environment? Then they are liable. The bar for liability is therefore low.
(Sexual) harassment and discrimination
The law does not set specific conditions for fulfilling the duty of care. Whether the employer has fulfilled their duty of care will be judged on a case-by-case basis. The prevention of (sexual) harassment and discrimination in the workplace is important. Therefore, an employer may in any case be expected to appoint an (external) confidential advisor. He might also need to provide a complaints procedure. Not only does this enable the employer to demonstrate that they have fulfilled their duty of care, but the parties involved also know how to deal with a complaint. In addition, taking these measures can have both a repressive and a preventive effect.
The employer has not automatically fulfilled their duty of care merely by drawing up a complaints procedure and appointing a confidential adviser; more is expected of them. For instance, an employer has the obligation to respond adequately and in a timely manner to a complaint regarding sexual harassment or discrimination. He must take a complaint seriously and investigate it properly.
Working from home
The duty of care also extends to the home workplace, although the employer’s obligations are then more limited than those that apply within an office or factory. The employer must ensure that the employee has an ergonomically equipped workplace. This means providing a good and large enough desk, an adjustable desk chair, a properly adjusted monitor and associated aids. ‘Taking care of’ does not mean that the employer must purchase everything (new) for the employee, if the employee already has an ergonomically well-equipped workplace. The point is that the employer must establish whether and to what extent the employee has a good workplace at home.
The employer also has the obligation to implement a policy that prevents the pressure of work from becoming too high and the employee from suffering burnout. Limiting the workload is part of this. This obligation also applies – and perhaps even more so – when working from home. Therefore, as an employer, ensure regular (team) consultation about work pressure and provide information about monitoring the balance between work and private life. It is also important for employees to raise the alarm in good time with their employer when the work pressure becomes too high.
When an employer has not fulfilled their duty of care towards their employees, they can be held liable. If that liability is established, the employee may claim compensation for material and immaterial damage suffered. An employment lawyer can explain your rights, risks and obligations, allowing you to make the best possible decisions.
More information on the employer’s duty of care
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Within the Employment & Pension law section, Seliz advises national and international employers and employees on various employment law issues. Seliz is called in to assess settlement agreements, non-competition clauses, dismissal and to draw up tailor-made employment contracts. With her knowledge of liability law, Seliz also advises and litigates on matters concerning employers’ liability for industrial accidents and occupational diseases.
Seliz has a good sense of the interests that play a role in a case and likes to keep the lines with her clients short. She is tenacious and a good negotiator. Clients describe Seliz as an open and involved person. Contact Seliz for advice on Dutch employment law. She can assist you in English, Dutch or Turkish.