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Negligence and Wellbeing

In the past couple months, I explored the question of whether an employer might be legally responsible for failing to address the personal wellbeing of its employees. The two posts in question were entitled, "willful ignorance" and "reckless disregard". This month, I explore an even lower legal standard: Negligence.

In a court of law, the plaintiff in a negligence case must offer proof of four distinct elements:

     1. Duty of care;
     2. Breach of duty;
     3. Causation; and
     4. Evidence of harm.

Recognizing the fact that many readers are not lawyers, and limiting my examination to the workplace, I'll focus on the first element. Does an employer owe a duty of care to its employees, with respect to their wellbeing in the workplace?

Except in rare cases, (think, a business that handles nuclear materials), the answer-- in the eyes of the law-- is probably, no. But could the answer ever be different, in the future? Should it be different, in the future?

Realistically, for reasons that are beyond the scope of this blog, the answer to the "could" question is probably not. The answer to the "should" question, however, is probably yes. And that answer is within the scope of this blog-- bear with me.

Ethically and morally speaking (which, for the most part, is different than legally speaking), I believe there should exist a duty of care between an employer and employee, relative to the employee's wellbeing in the workplace. If not an actual duty, at the very least, an implied duty grounded in the notion that one's employment should not negatively impact one's personal wellbeing.

My personal view aside, the law's view of ethics and morality is pretty conservative (with a small "c") and narrowly interpreted-- which is to say that asking an elected judge to agree with me, is highly unlikely.

Jobs-- even so-called "professional" jobs-- are rarely about trust. And they're almost never about shared values, or common interests. They're never about wellbeing. At least, not so far.

Is the absence of a workplace wellbeing policy or initiative, legal negligence? Probably not, but it sure seems like it should be.


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