Employer Duty of Care: Do you also know the UK Corporate Homicide Manslaughter Act?

The Employer duty of care has received more and more attention in the past decade. Many countries have passed legislation that allows companies and organizations to be held criminally liable if they do not provide adequate duty of care. The UK Corporate Homicide Manslaughter Act passed in 2007, according to the UK Government’s official Health and Safety website, states:

The UK Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 is a landmark in law. For the first time, companies and organisations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter as a result of serious management failures resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care.

The focus on employer duty of care responsibilities for corporations has been something recognized legally in the United States for years. Duty of care necessarily means that a company was negligent in providing appropriate preventative measures to prevent harm. The broad definition meant that civil lawsuits over duty of care were common. Many major corporations have had insurance policies in place for years that addressed possible judgements against an enterprise as a result of potential lawsuits.

The infamous Bhopal, India chemical disaster in 1984 that killed between 15,000 and 20,000 people relates to potential duty of care failures by a US Corporation, that owned an Indian subsidiary held ultimately responsible for the disaster. This particular duty of care problem has still not been settled legally.

The growing internationalization of businesses everywhere, however, caused renewed interest by lawmakers in tightening up existing or drafting new employer duty of care legislation. In the United States, several prominent lawsuits and legal actions by contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan due to alleged employer duty of care violations made headlines. Making headlines too were duty of care related lawsuits by Iraqi and Afghan nationals claiming that an American company had caused injury of death through negligence.

Duty of care legislation in the UK did not really exist until the government there passed the UK Corporate Homicide Manslaughter Act in 2007. This Act was also the result of the growing footprint of UK companies or companies associated with the UK abroad. The UK had no real laws addressing employer duty of care issues. The UK also did not have a history of civil litigation as is common in the United States. The specific need for a law became apparent with the health and welfare issues arising from UK citizens working abroad.

Providing adequate risk assessment and management training to employees traveling abroad can help to significantly reduce the likelihood of duty of care violations. Many UK companies, in light of the 2007 legislation, have begun to aggressively implement appropriate travel security programs. By adequately preparing employees and their families, organizations can significantly lessen the chance of being found in violation of the UK Corporate Homicide Manslaughter Act.

Duty of care mitigation preparation, for low-risk areas, may require simply having appropriate emergency action plans in place. These plans, for example, would provide guidance in the case of a health emergency.

High-risk locations may require more than just planning. Training and local security support may be a minimum that a court would accept as providing reasonable duty of care for an employee on official business.