Are you responsible for your employees’ safety during their commute to work?

At this time of year, even if your team work a nine to five, some or all of them may find themselves commuting in the dark. If you are in the hospitality trade, or another industry which keeps less regular hours, you may have employees who must commute in the dark at all times of year.

It can be an uncomfortable experience for anyone, especially if the streets are empty or they have to travel through a rough neighbourhood. Sadly, high profile attacks have shown that women are particularly at risk.

Do you have any legal responsibility for employee safety during such commutes?

The short answer is no, normally not. The duty of care as an employer and under common law is unlikely to extend to your staff’s commuting.

Thinking beyond the law

That said, no employer is going to want to see their employees come to harm, or even feel persistently unsafe. And research from a safety tech company found that 60% of employees feel unsafe when travelling to and from work on public transport during unsociable hours, and half of employees feel concerned about commuting alone.

While it is impossible for employers to guarantee safety during the commute, the good news is that there are a number of actions you could take to improve safety; and they don’t have to be disruptive or costly.

Ways to help your employees commute more safely in the dark

Encourage lift shares – Do some drive while others use public transport? Encouraging an informal lift sharing scheme may be a help. It will reduce the number of people commuting alone and may also foster camaraderie between colleagues. As an added bonus, it is good for the environment too.

Targeted flexi-time – If you are not normally a fan of flexi-time, this may be a good reason to allow it to a limited degree. Giving staff who need it the freedom to commute during daylight may make a big difference to their safety and their sense of well-being.

Varied routines – Where there is a particular threat against an employee, i.e. they are being targeted by an individual, part of a broader response could be to allow them to vary their start and finish times so that it is harder to predict when they are travelling. They may also choose to vary their routes or modes of transport. If there is a likely risk of physical harm, the police should be called.

Pay for a taxi – If they are staying late temporarily at your request, you may decide it reasonable to offer to pay for a taxi so that their commitment to the job and you does not put them at additional risk.

Phone check-ins – Suggest that staff can phone to say they have left for work and then follow-up if they don’t arrive on time, and that they can do the equivalent with you or a buddy in the evenings too.

Personal safety devices – As a small employee perk, you could include a personal alarm in your employee benefits package, as a line of defence for them and peace of mind for you. There are even phone apps you can subscribe to which have a panic button linked to a 24/7 monitored service.

Reminders not to display expensive items – Brightly lit mobile devices, expensive watches and jewellery are all magnets for attracting thieves. Make sure your staff know this when commuting in the dark.

External lighting – Ensure that parking areas and walkways are well lit (and in cold weather, gritted too).

Employee concerns

All of the above may be reasonable things you could offer without your staff asking for help, but what happens if a member of staff tells you they are feeling threatened by their commute. A legal right that came to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemics was Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act.

This protects employees from detriment should they leave, or refuse to attend, work where they reasonably believe they are in serious and imminent danger. The test for this is that they “reasonably believe” the threat, not whether it is likely to happen – so tread carefully. Listen to such concerns and any of the ideas above might help you come to an agreement.

Further help

If this is a concern in your business and you would like to talk it through with an expert, please do not hesitate to contact The HR Dept.

How can we help?