I recently had a call from my client Mike. He’s just signed up for a new job as a farm worker. The job was advertised as “live in” but when he went to visit the farm, the accommodation is in fact a portable room hired from a local company. The room is parked adjacent to the Farm Manager’s house. Mike is expected to share a bathroom accessed through the Farm Manager’s laundry. His meals are cooked and eaten at the Farm Manager’s house. Mike had expected he would be in a house – either on his own or sharing with the other farm staff. Mike had expected he would be in a house and wanted to know if it was right that he was only offered the portable room as his “accommodation”.
Standards for worker’s accommodation are now covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. The Act provides that a farm owner is a “Person Conducting Business or Undertaking” (a “PCBU”). If a PCBU provides accommodation they own, manage or control to their workers (where occupancy is necessary for work purposes because other accommodation is not reasonably available), they must, so far as is reasonably practicable, maintain the accommodation. The accommodation must be maintained so that workers are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from the accommodation. Although the Health and Safety in Employment Regulations 1995 have been repealed, they provide interim guidance as to what standards are expected of employee accommodation. For example, accommodation must be made from permanent materials and which are maintained in good order and condition and must either contain, or have access to, certain facilities, including toilets, washing, sleeping, heating and refrigeration facilities.
Although he shares some facilities with the Farm Manager, what is being provided for Mike broadly meets the criteria under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
If you are offering accommodation for your employees, some top tips are:
- Inspect the accommodation and consider what needs improving or replacing to ensure the house is warm, safe and dry and complies with the Residential Tenancy Act 1986 and the Health and Safety at Work Act.
- Ensure the accommodation is accurately described when advertising the position.
- Consider employee dynamics – Do the employees have children or a partner? Are employees expected to share accommodation?
- Enter into a service tenancy agreement with your employee (this may be included in their employment agreement or be a separate agreement). The service tenancy agreement should include the obligations on you as the landlord and on the employee as tenant. For example, the condition that the accommodation must be left in when the employee leaves.
- Finally, consider whether you would be happy to live in the accommodation being offered. If you wouldn’t, you may need to consider whether it’s fair to expect your employees to.
If you are uncertain about whether your accommodation is suitable, need a service tenancy agreement drafted or would like more information on rural housing requirements, contact me on 07 872 0560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.