Duty of care

Duty of care

Companies cannot be held responsible for all of their employees’ actions. But they can be held responsible for a wide variety of measures and policies that will influence their employees’ behaviour, including obligations to check, monitor, communicate, rebuke, train, etc.

Company directors have to be aware of the legislation and the obligation to learn and act on its requirements. These regulations apply to companies whose employees drive on business and are known collectively as ‘Duty of Care’.

The scope of the Duty of Care legislation is broad. It covers all vehicles used for business including company vehicles, owned, contact hired, or leased. It also includes daily rental vehicles and privately owned vehicles used in the business i.e. the ‘grey fleet’.

The legislation applies to anyone that drives on behalf of the business regardless of how frequently or infrequently they do so. It applies to all employees regardless of whether they are permanent, fixed term or temporary employees and those supplied through an employment agency.

The gist of the legislation is that all employers have a strong legal responsibility to ensure the safety of all their employees that drive on business. This goes well beyond simply ensuring that vehicles and drivers comply with the standard legal requirements such as MOTs, insurance and driving licences. It also requires companies to undertake risk assessments and implement appropriate policies and procedures covering subjects such as hours worked, suitability of vehicles (including grey fleet), mechanical condition of vehicles (including grey fleet), condition and health of drivers, use of mobile phones and other in-car devices, checking of documents, and driver training.

It is plain that ignorance of the laws and their implications is not an excuse for non-compliance and will not be considered so by a court. Company directors must therefore research and inform themselves about the legislation.

Now that Corporate Manslaughter exists under UK law there has been a shift in the legal responsibility away from fleet managers/administrator (except in cases of gross negligence) and on to company directors (controlling minds legislation). This is a clear signal that what’s required of many companies is a fundamental change in company culture and attitudes towards the risks that their employees face when driving.

This is the real risk. In the event of a serious accident, directors (and in exceptional circumstances fleet managers) of companies that had failed to follow duty of care principles can now be held liable and face up to 10 years in prison and the company could receive large fines.