Rewarding eco-friendly conduct during coronavirus

23 Sep 2020 By Chris Cook

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, Chris Cook explains how employers can show appreciation of workers’ green behaviour

Before Covid-19 forced many to work from home, there was an increased pressure on employers to encourage more environmentally friendly behaviour both within the office and in relation to their employees’ habits. Staff travel benefits are often offered by employers to assist with this. 

However, staff travel benefits are often limited to activities such as financial assistance with train fares and car sharing. With the current risks that public transport and sharing a car ride poses, employers are having to be careful and think outside the box when putting staff travel benefits in place. 

Employers’ duty of care

Employers owe a duty of care to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this. This obligation has attracted much more scrutiny since the lockdown began, with employers having to ensure there are necessary safety measures in place to minimise the risk of infection in the office.  However, employers are also under a duty to ensure employees’ safety on travel to and from the office. This currently includes advising travel via public transport only when necessary, staggering arrival and departure times and providing additional parking facilities.  

Additionally, this duty of care not only relates to the physical health of employees but also their mental health. Many employers are finding that monitoring employees’ mental health during lockdown is difficult, with many employees raising it as a potential barrier to returning to the office. 

Green travel 

Although the burden on employers relating to their duty of care has increased recently, this does not stop them offering staff travel benefits that not only support environmentally friendly travel, but also encourages behaviour to minimise the risk of Covid-19. Additionally, staff travel benefits can be aligned to employers’ health and wellbeing strategy to assist in their obligations relating to employees’ mental health.   

For example, initiatives such as the cycle to work scheme are not only practicable in the current climate but also beneficial to both the employee and employer. From the employer’s perspective, the scheme is a tax-exempt arrangement that enables them to fund cycling equipment that is safe and promotes environmentally friendly travel while simultaneously minimising the risk an employee will come in contact with Covid-19 on their commute.  From an employee’s perspective, they are reducing their carbon footprint, promoting a healthier lifestyle and minimising their risk of Covid-19 infection.  

Although schemes such as this will not be available for all employers due to factors such as location, employers should take the time while considering a return to the office on how their employees intend to commute and any initiatives or policies that they can put in place to promote environmentally friendly behaviour in doing so. 

How or what will work

Every business is different not only in the service that it provides but also in staff volume, location and culture. These factors will determine what rewards will work best and is something that should be personalised to your business. The process for implementing such rewards will in turn depend on the type of reward offered.  

Rewards may currently have a slow uptake given the current level of home working, but is something that employers should continue to promote while we adjust to working life in a post-Covid-19 environment. In fact, these rewards may help persuade reluctant employees to return to the office.   

In general, the best way to implement an environmentally friendly travel reward scheme is to seek the consensus from your employees on what type of benefit they would be interested in. If you implement a reward that no-one uses, then there will be no benefit for both the employee or the employer.

Chris Cook is a partner and head of employment and data protection at SA Law

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