Ben Harding gets legal guidance this week from Martin Brewer, a Partner with the employment team of Mills & Reeve, and Helen Badger, employment law expert at Browne Jacobson, on sharing a workspace with those of the small, wingless and parasitic variety.
The whole office here has just received an email saying: “The pest control team were on site last night giving us a treatment for carpet fleas which always seem to be a problem at this time of year. The carpets cannot be vacuumed for 14 days in order for the treatment to work.”
This is disgusting! Can we actually be expected to work in such an environment?
Myself and another member of the team have both suffered bites, but thought that they came from insects OUTSIDE, not from parasites living in the office!
Is there anything that can be done about this? i.e. working from home?
Any help would be greatly appreciated!
Martin Brewer, is a Partner with the employment team of Mills & Reeve
This is an interesting and tricky issue. First, don’t assume that your bites did not come from outside the workplace. They may have done and proving anything to the contrary may be difficult.
First, legally your employer is obliged to provide a ‘safe’ working environment (this is a general duty under section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974). It is arguable whether the potential for a flea bite is a danger to health and safety and, in the end, your employer is acting to deal with this issue.
Second, you could consider leaving the workplace, and for example working from home. However, there may be adverse consequences of doing that. Your employer may seek to discipline or possibly even dismiss you.
Section 100 of the Employment rights Act 1996 says that it is automatically unfair to dismiss someone who leaves work if they do so in circumstances of ‘danger’ where the employee reasonably believes that danger to be serious and imminent and which the employee could not reasonably have been expected to avert.
However, this still begs the question whether the risk of a flea bite is a danger which is serious and imminent (accepting that it’s pretty hard to avert). Personally I doubt that the risk is so serious as to justify walking out.
Martin can be contacted at: [email protected]
Helen Badger, employment law expert, Browne Jacobson
There is an implied duty on all employers to provide a safe system of working. This does include making sure the working environment is free from hazards.
However, in this case I would suggest that, having become aware of the fleas, your employer has acted reasonably in taking action to alleviate the problem. There is little more your employer could do in this situation. I do not think the flea problem gives you sufficient cause to request to work from home given the likely impact on the business of every employee being away from the office.
Helen can be contacted at: [email protected]
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