As 'guest expert' to Horse & Hound magazine in July 2014, Penningtons Manches was asked to consider a reader's question on employment and personal injury issues in the equestrian field.
Q: I run a small yard in Surrey and have several people who work on a casual basis, doing jobs around the yard in return for rides. What is my responsibility to them if something goes wrong?
A: A few hours of yard work in exchange for a ride or lesson can suit everyone, keeping costs down for both parties. While the term 'casual work' suggests an informal set-up with little obligation on each side, Liz Cardy of Penningtons Manches' employment team warns that yard owners and occupiers should not be lulled into a false sense of security.
"In the majority of cases, casual workers are, in fact, classed as 'employees' or 'workers'," says Liz. "If so, they will be entitled to a greater number of legal rights."
Just because someone is not rewarded financially for their labour does not necessarily mean that they are not classed as an employee.
"Employment status will depend upon a number of things, including whether the individual is required to do the work personally (rather than being able to send someone in their place) and how much control the yard exercises over the way in which they carry out the work," Liz explains. "Whether or not the individual receives any pay is not conclusive in this.
"Bringing an injury claim arising out of an employer's obligations, however, is unlikely to be possible for someone who works only part time for payment in kind and has no employment contract."
Regardless of which employment category their staff or helpers fall into, anyone running a yard is obliged to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of those working on their premises.
"Employers must abide by certain laws, but a yard owner or manager will still owe a general duty of care to non-employees," says Philippa Luscombe of Penningtons Manches' personal injury team. "This extends to individuals doing casual or part-time work."
Employers' liability insurance is a must if you are an employer, as it will pay compensation for injury as a result of your action or inaction - but is insurance necessary if you are using casual workers?
"Liability may arise from accidents caused by the defective or dangerous condition of the premises or the conduct of other employees, for which an individual is entitled to claim compensation," says Philippa. "While it is not compulsory, relevant public liability insurance is advisable to cover such circumstances."
Philippa also points out the potential for legal action through negligence on the part of a horse's owner or keeper, or under the Animals Act where an animal causes injury.
"The key thing for employers is to ensure that proper insurance is in place so that if an injury does happen, the injured person can claim compensation," she adds.
"Maintain proper health and safety documentation, including risk assessments and accident books. This will make it easier to determine if the event was a true accident or something that only occurred due to failure to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of those working on a yard."