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The term duty of care is used in lots of different contexts. Professionals owe a duty of care to their clients or the people to whom they offer services. As an employer, you owe a duty of care to your employees. The fundamental obligation owed by employers is the duty to take reasonable care to protect the employee against foreseeable injury arising out of their employment. This article discusses the:

  • meaning of duty of care in an employer/employee relationship; 
  • fundamental obligation owed by employers towards employees to ensure their safety; and
  • extent of this duty. 

The Employer/Employee Duty of Care

An employer’s duty of care covers a number of areas. It includes duties to provide:

  • competent staff; 
  • a safe place to work;
  • proper and adequate materials; and
  • a safe system of work and supervision. 

The duty to take reasonable care to protect an employee against foreseeable injury arising out of their employment is especially important, because it is non-delegable. This means that, as an employer, you cannot avoid the duty by delegating it to a third party. 

What Is the Standard of Care?  

The standard of care owed by an employer to their employee is something you should be aware of. The term ‘reasonable care’ does not mean you need to guarantee the safety of each of your employees. In fact, the concept of reasonable care will vary across industries and between businesses. 

For example, the processes you need to put in place to take reasonable care to protect your employee in an office environment will differ to those required on a construction site. 

Whilst you are required to take reasonable care, employees also need to take personal responsibility. The duty of the employer does not mean employees do not have a duty to look after their own safety. This means that employees need to: 

  • act prudently; and 
  • comply with any directions to enforce and maintain their safety. 

In making sure you have taken all reasonable steps to protect your employee from foreseeable injury, you should not only consider the work environment but also the nature of the tasks. 

For example, if the role involves repetitive work, you should take into account the possibility that your employee may be easily distracted and could injure themselves as a result of inattention. You should consider the arrangements you need to put in place to ensure they do not become careless and injure themselves. For example, you could decide to: 

  • limit the length of the shift; or 
  • enforce periodic breaks throughout the shift. 

As an employer, it is not just your role to establish safe practices and processes for your employees. You must also make sure these are enforced and maintained amongst your workforce. 

Key Takeaways 

It is a legal requirement for all employers to take reasonable care to protect their employees from foreseeable injury. As an employer, you do not need to guarantee the safety of your employees, but you do need to take reasonable steps. Your employees are then under an obligation to take personal responsibility for their own safety and follow the processes and practices you put in place. However, even the best practices and processes may still result in injured employees. Therefore, you should always take out the appropriate workplace insurance to ensure you are fully covered in the event one of your employees is injured on the job. If you have any questions regarding an employer’s duty of care to employees, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.


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