Accidents happen. So what does that mean for an employer if a staff member has one on a bike they’ve obtained through Cyclescheme?
Let’s set the scene… You’ve had some bad news: one of your employees has had an accident while cycling to work. The bike’s damaged and they’re hurt, fortunately not seriously. Someone is probably liable for this. You may worry it’s you. After all, it was you who encouraged your staff to cycle to your workplace by enabling them to get bikes through the cycle to work scheme. And if the crashed bike is still in its hire period, you may be the owner and your employee will still need to make the repayments... You’re sympathetic towards what’s happened and, of course, keen that your employee makes a full recovery, but are you liable?
The short answer is no. Employers have a duty of care towards employees while they’re at work but not while they’re travelling to work. The HSE publication ‘Driving at work’, which “applies to any employer with employees who drive or ride a motorcycle or bicycle at work”, is clear on this. It says: “Health and safety law does not apply to people commuting (ie travelling between their home and their usual place of work).”
The cycle to work scheme is, as the name says, explicitly for commuting. Employer liability is only a factor when employees cycle (or drive) as part of their job when they’re at work. The HSE ‘Driving at work’ publication makes it clear that employers must consider this very carefully. So, it can be an issue for employers whose staff visit clients by bike during their working day and delivery firms who use cyclists should particularly take note. But employer liability doesn’t apply to staff who are cycling to or from work.
Cyclescheme isn’t liable either. It’s not a manufacturer or retailer (see below). Its role is to enable employees to get bikes and cycling equipment tax-free. It’s not liable during the initial hire period when salary sacrifice payments are made nor during the extended hire period, which kicks in if your employee chooses the ‘own it later’ ownership option.
So who is liable for your employee’s accident? That depends. If the bike failed catastrophically – for example, the fork sheared – then the manufacturer and/or retailer might be liable. If your employee hit a pothole and fell off, the relevant highway authority could be liable. If they were knocked off by a car driver, it could be the car driver.
We can’t say for certain because any judgement will depend on the circumstances of the incident. Bike manufacturers are responsible for defects, not usage. A highway authority can have a defence against a claim for a crash caused by a pothole if they can demonstrate that the road was inspected sufficiently regularly. A driver might contest your employee’s account of events and claim it was all or partly the cyclist’s fault. So your employee might find that they’re partly liable themselves – or that no one is liable.
A claim is easier to make and more likely to succeed if your employee uses a solicitor who specialises in cycling incidents. Such solicitors advertise in cycling magazines and can readily be found online. However, it’s easier still if your employee is a member of a cycling organisation that provides legal cover and advice. British Cycling, Cycling UK, and London Cycling Campaign all offer this.
Membership of any of these organisations will provide your cycling staff with valuable peace of mind. Cycling UK additionally offers employer membership for businesses. If you have that, your employees may not feel the need for individual membership.
If your employee doesn’t have the backing of a cycling organisation, suggest that they check their household insurance policy. It may cover legal services, third-party liability, and even accidental damage to the policy holder’s bicycle.