Duty of care—you might have heard the phrase tossed around by companies touting their dedication to their employees. You might just associate it with liability lawsuits and big payouts. But what exactly is it?
According to Collins Dictionary, duty of care is “the legal obligation to safeguard others from harm while they are in your care, using your services, or exposed to your activities.”
Its clear from this definition that duty of care applies to all kinds of organizations, from churches and Boy Scout groups, to hospitals and schools.
Duty of Care At Work
But what about the employer’s duty of care at work?
Duty of care may sound like a meaningless buzzword. But the reality is that it has tangible implications for every company, no matter the size.
Let’s get concrete. What happens if an employee is on a business trip and there is a terrorist attack? Do you have a plan if he or she contracts an illness while working internationally? What if an employee suffers an accident traveling between job sites?
All of these questions raise important legal and moral questions about an employer’s responsibility to their employees. It’s also where duty of care comes in.
Duty of Care Then and Now
Duty of care originated as a common law principle in the 19th century. It further developed after the Second Industrial Revolution, to protect factory workers from harsh and dangerous labor conditions.
Recently, though, duty of care has grown to become much more than an ambiguous legal concept. In the past ten years, lawmakers and employers have put an increasing emphasis on duty of care—strengthening laws and recognizing that it entails more than a simple legal responsibility. In a nutshell, duty of care means your company has the responsibility to protect employees from unnecessary risk of harm when working or traveling on your behalf.
But that’s pretty broad. What is your company’s duty of care?
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. For each company, the responsibilities will look slightly different—depending on how your employees spend their day at work. A construction company’s duty of care efforts will likely be very different from a software company’s.
But there are several considerations that apply to every company: prevention, planning, and communication. No matter what the threat to your employees is, your company needs to take steps to prevent it from happening. Have a plan in place in case it does happen and have a way to communicate with your employees during and after the threat.
Timely communication is key to fulfilling your duty of care at work. If your company has taken solid preventative measures, planned for the worst, and implemented a modern communication system, you are well on your way to fulfilling your duty of care at work.
The Impact of Duty of Care
But even aside from the legal implications, putting employees first—especially when it comes to their health, safety, and well-being—is simply good for business. It ensures business continuity, maintains employee morale, and supports employee loyalty and retention.
Show your employees that you are taking proactive measures to keep them safe. They will be more motivated and productive than those that feel like a commodity. Statistics back this up. Studies have found that companies that have exemplary safety, health, and environmental programs outperformed the S&P 500 by between 3 and 5 percent.
So what does all this mean for your company? Duty of care may seem pretty abstract. But the reality is that it has real consequences for your employee’s safety, morale, and productivity. Think about the risks your employees face. Then, take some time to re-examine your company’s measures. Are you prepared to keep your employees safe even in the case of threats like fires, hurricanes, and active shooters? You can never know which of those threats will impact your people. But one thing is certain: you will need a way to communicate with your employees.
Make sure that you have a robust, reliable, two-way emergency notification system in place. Duty of care in the workplace is taking off—and you don’t want to be left behind.
Want to learn more about how to fulfill your duty of care at work?