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According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), across 2018/2019 there were 1.4 million reported work-related ill health cases. These included 0.6 million incidences of work-related stress, depression or anxiety, 0.5 million musculoskeletal disorder cases and 0.6 million cases of non-fatal injury.

The 2020/2021 period showed an increase in reported work-related illnesses up to 1.7 million, including 0.8 million cases of work-related stress, anxiety or depression 0.4 million musculoskeletal disorders and 0.4 million non-fatal injuries.

It’s perhaps no surprise that reports of work-related stress, anxiety and depression increased during this period, we were in the midst of a global pandemic and there was a widespread increase in reported mental health disorders across this period. There was, however, a slight decrease in reports of musculoskeletal disorders, these can include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and tension neck syndrome; all associated with long periods of desk-based work. We could reasonably surmise that during this time, long periods of furlough for workers and business closures could have reduced the chances of people suffering from these kinds of disorders, at least temporarily…

O-hi-o, we’re back

Most of us have now returned to normality in terms of working patterns, but for those whose kitchen tables have become their permanent desktop, what does the future of workplace injury look like? And how can employers maintain their responsibility for employee safety from afar?

On 23rd September 2022, a new law came into effect in Ohio which deals with eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits for homeworkers. Though broadly introducing a new exclusion for benefits for “injury or disability sustained by an employee who performs the employee’s duties in a work area that is located within the employee’s home and that is separate and distinct from the location of the employer”, the new bill does allow compensation for injuries or disabilities sustained in the home if:

  • that injury or disability arises out of the employees’ employment
  • the employee’s injury or disability was caused by a special hazard of the employee’s employment activity; and
  • the employee’s injury or disability is sustained during an activity undertaken by the employee for the exclusive benefit of the employer.
Here in the UK

This movement in the US might well beg the question of what happens to workers in the UK who suffer injury or disability whilst working from home. Should employers be readying themselves for a new wave of claims from workers who’ve tripped over their cat on the way to their computer, or spilled scalding tea over their lap whilst trying to work from the sofa? In short, no.

In the UK, someone injured at home would be treated in the same way as someone in the workplace. It would come down to whether the employer was negligent, i.e., did they have a duty of care? Was this duty breached, and was there a loss as a result? If they were, compensation would be based on case law where courts have looked at similar injuries and made awards for the pain and suffering caused. Compensation for other losses, like loss of earnings, can also be claimed and these losses are based on factual circumstance.

Call of duty

Some of the most common home-working related injuries include neck and back pain, eye strain and repetitive strain injury (RSI), problems that can be caused by using inappropriate or poorly adjusted workstations.

By law employees must conduct a regular risk assessment of their employees’ working environment to ensure their conditions are safe and healthy. If changes need to be made to an employees’ environment, it’s the employers’ duty to ensure these are carried out.

If the employer cannot provide this full assessment, they should give their employees all the information they need to work safely at home, this could include asking them to conduct their own self-assessment of their workspace or equipment.

By taking these steps, employers can mitigate the chance of facing a claim for workplace injury from their employees, but if injury or disability does arise, our team of experts are ready to advise policyholders of their rights.

Mike Jenkins, Head of Legal Advice, Arc Legal Group

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