A German court has ruled that taking the stairs – at home – can be classed as the work commute.

UK experts have suggested that employers need to look at how they can avoid similar claims.

In Germany, the case centred around an area sales manager who made a short walk from his bedroom to his home office one floor below.

On the descent of the spiral staircase, the area sales manager slipped and broke a thoracic vertebra. 

The employers’ statutory accident insurance association defended its position, refusing to  pay out for the accident. It said that accident insurance protection in a private home, with regards to work only begins once the home office has been reached.

The German Federal Social Court, however, ruled that the incident constituted ‘an insured work route’. On that basis, it said that ‘insurance cover should be provided to the same extent as when the activity is carried out at company premises.

Could this decision pave the way for similar claims to be raised here in the UK?

Gavin Scarr Hall, Director of Health & Safety at Peninsula, says: “Germany has different rules and insurances for industrial injuries; however, the outcome of this case might get UK employers considering how they can avoid such claims – particularly with more employees working from home than ever before.

“Domestic stairs are built to building regulation standards in the UK so it’s the homeowner who controls the health & safety risks associated with the stairs in their home. However, there are other ways for employers to ensure their staff’s safety when working from home.

“Some of the rules relating to Display Screen Regulations (DSE) and furniture were relaxed last year during the pandemic but as homeworking becomes a longer-term option, either full time or in a hybrid/flexible model, then the employer has a duty to fulfil their legal requirements in the home office as well as the regular workplace.

Put measures in place

Gavin Scarr Hall also said: “DSE Regulations and Workplace Regulations require employers to put measures in place to reduce risks to employees, which means a risk assessment needs to be completed prior to allowing any long-term home working.

“According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), an employer may not need to visit the home environment. In most cases, providing employees with guidance on how to set up their home office, self-assessment tools and clear, continuous communication will suffice.”

James Potts, Director of Legal Services at Peninsula adds: “It is important that employers take steps to ensure their workplace is safe and comfortable, and remote based workers should be afforded the same opportunities and attention as staff working on-site.

“Treating people differently because of their working location can lead to incidents such as this, as well as increasing the risk of constructive dismissal and even discrimination claims being raised.

“As such, employers should have clear communication channels in place, so they can stay in touch with their remote workforce as easily as with employees who work from the office.”