Insurance for charity homeworkers
Covid-19 has had devastating impacts on the charities sector and individual charities’ finances. Many are operating on a working from home basis. Others have furloughed their staff but continue to deliver services with the support of volunteers. Rent and other overheads are still being paid on premises often standing empty.
One constant backdrop to this story is insurance and whether and how various scenarios within the “new normal” for charities are covered. Does insurance have to be increased, or could it be scaled down and are the insurance policies a charity needed pre-Covid the same as those required now?
Under the terms of the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employer responsibilities for homeworker safety do not differ from the duty of care required for office workers. A charity’s legal responsibilities for their workers’ health, safety and wellbeing are identical.
A charity’s employers’ liability insurance will protect homeworkers and may have covered some charity staff who worked from home before the pandemic. A typical proposal form will have asked for details of clerical and manual staff, so cover should be in place, if all employees were included and roles have not changed. It is advisable to double check.
From here, a charity must do more than merely allow staff to work from home. A proactive approach is essential, making sure homeworkers have a suitable working environment, in terms of lighting, heating and seating. Insisting on regular breaks, of at least five minutes per hour, to move, stretch and take a screen break, is important.
Whilst charities cannot visit homes to carry out staff risk assessments, they should ask employees to complete their own risk assessments, according to a provided checklist.
Mental health and homeworkers
Awareness of mental health impacts has been heightened during the pandemic. Charities must monitor their employees’ mental health, whether homeworking or furloughed. Watching for signals is essential, with key areas being mood, unusual mistakes and acting out of character. Homeworkers should be frequently contacted and engaged in day-to-day operations and not allowed to feel isolated.
Homeworkers’ own insurance policies
Employees should tell their home insurer if they are working from home. Typically, that notification should suffice, particularly if the work handled is clerical. Many insurers have taken a sympathetic attitude during Covid-19 and agreed not to increase premiums for those working from home or using cars for work reasons. Some might say “quite so”, because homeworking is doing insurers a favour. Properties that might have been targets for burglary during working hours are now occupied all day.
But not all homeworkers are sitting at desks. A charity may have maintenance staff working from an outbuilding or shed at home and, if that is the case, extra care should be exercised. Any hot work, for instance, would need to be mentioned to the home insurance provider and checks also made as to whether any outbuildings are sufficiently covered on the property’s insurance policy.
If a charity has provided equipment for those working from home, it should ensure it has all-risks cover in place and that the individual addresses of its employees are noted on the insurance schedule. Many policies will refuse to cover equipment, unless the address at which it is being used has been specified. Others may have an extension that allows for a certain sum insured to kept at employees’ homes. It is important to check.
If equipment is being supplied to home workers, it must be safe and fit for purpose. Any defects that cause harm to the employee could result in a liability claim.
Third party interactions
Any interaction that a home worker has with a third party, as a result of handling a work related task, should be covered by the charity’s insurance policy. For instance, if a homeworker drops a five-pack of printer paper needed for work and breaks the delivery person’s foot, the charity’s policy would need to pick up any liability claim.
A charity’s public liability policy will have no geographical limits, so regardless of where the incident occurs, the claim should be covered, if the incident is work related. If it is not, the claim would have to be settled by the worker’s own property owners’ liability protection - part of their home insurance policy.
One thing charities need to be especially vigilant about, in an era of homeworking, is data protection and the way sensitive data – often held by charities dealing with the vulnerable – is safeguarded.
Charities must be clear about their data protection policies. Regardless of how safe homeworkers believe their property to be, laptops should be locked whenever left unattended. Documents must be shredded, if that is how they would have been handled in the office. Strong password protection should be used and passwords used for virtual meeting log-ons.
Phishing and hacking have increased during the pandemic, due to cyber criminals recognising that many workers are no longer operating behind strong firewalls. It is vital for charity employees to take every precaution to keep data safe and avoid GDPR repercussions. Check virus protection is the latest version available, and that staff only use charity laptops.
Also, if staff are still able to work in the field and use public hotspots, it is worth investing in a VPN service, to prevent hackers entering your systems, by diverting signals between their computer and the public hotspot’s server.
Cyber insurance was becoming a priority for many businesses pre-pandemic and is highly relevant now. Such insurance can provide compensation should websites be seriously interfered with or data lost, but also provide valuable IT expertise, to restore operations quickly.
Whilst, under normal circumstances, leaving premises unoccupied on a long term basis would invalidate insurance cover, insurers are currently regarding business premises as being “temporarily closed”. In return, they expect property owners to try to inspect the building at least weekly and to put security measures in place.
Alarms, fire alarms and any sprinkler systems should all be in working order and heating should be left running to prevent freezing pipes. Mail should be picked up and waste removed - and moved some distance from the property.
Although insurers are taking this approach during Covid-19, charities should check their mortgage or lease agreements to make sure they are abiding by their terms. This is essential, if a charity is hiring out premises. In that scenario, it may also require property owners’ liability insurance.
Liability and professional indemnity
Tempting though it may be to stop paying for public liability protection or a professional indemnity premium, charities must remember such covers pick up the costs of claims not just from current actions but past ones too. If you cancel your policy, such retrospective claims would not be considered. Only claims made after the start date of your next policy would be covered. The message here is, “mind the gap” and do not create one, by cancelling cover.
Remember that even if all staff are furloughed, employers’ liability protection still needs to be in place.
Diversification of activities
If a charity has diversified or “pivoted”, it is essential it advises its insurer of any changes. Even what may seem like an innocent switch in operations or activities undertaken, could fundamentally alter the risk and would be deemed a “material fact”, which should have been notified. An insurer could easily turn down a claim, if it discovered any undeclared changes to the charity’s operations.
Trustees may find themselves more exposed during these trying times, with decisions relating to the charity’s direction resulting in actions being taken against them personally. Having charity trustees’ indemnity protection in place will protect a trustee’s personal finances, in cases of financial and administrative liability. With redundancies being a hotbed for potential litigation, such insurance makes great sense.
Volunteers and insurance
Charities can take on volunteers and furloughed staff from one charity are legally able to volunteer for another, as long as this is not a “swap” of staff and thus against HMRC rules. If charities take on new volunteers, there are things to consider.
Firstly, if there is an insurance policy covering volunteers, does it have any upper or lower age limits? Secondly, are these volunteers driving charity vehicles? If they are, the charity needs to arrange their insurance cover. If they drive their own vehicle, insurance is their responsibility.
All volunteer activities should be reviewed through a risk assessment and volunteers regarded with the same duty of care as employees.
Finally, at a time when volunteers are doing so much to assist our communities, some food for thought. Volunteers insurance is not a requirement in UK law and volunteers are often grouped with employees under a general employee liability policy or covered under a public liability policy (but charities should check). However, given the input and valuable work done by volunteers during the pandemic, perhaps it is time that specific insurance became mandatory to protect such selfless citizens?