We have an Employee who is Using Mains Electricity from the Office to Charge their Electric Car: How do we Handle it?

Posted in : How do I handle it NI on 27 June 2023
Emma Doherty
Tughans LLP
Issues covered: Electric Cars; Policies and Procedures; ESG

We have asked the employment team at Tughans LLP to provide practical answers to unusual, sensitive or complex work-related queries. We call this feature “How do I handle it?”

The articles are aimed at HR professionals and other managers who may need to deal, from time to time, with the less commonplace disputes at work; issues that may, if handled incorrectly, lead to claims of discrimination, constructive dismissal or some other serious difficulty.

This month’s problem concerns:

“We have an employee who drives an electric vehicle and recently, they have used mains electricity from the office to charge the vehicle via an extension lead connecting to the vehicle in the Company carpark outside. We feel the employee is taking advantage of the Company, as well as causing a trip hazard. We are unsure about how to regulate this going forward, how should we handle this?”

As you know, in efforts to reduce emissions and protect the environment, electric vehicles are becoming increasingly popular, with predictions that by 2040, the majority of cars sold will be electric. In line with their environmental obligations, together with the cost saving advantages, many employers have started to incorporate electric vehicles into their businesses.

Your approach could depend on whether the vehicle is a company car or owned by the employee personally, and the policies you have around the use of company vehicles.

If the vehicle is a company car, as a starting point you should review the employee’s contract of employment and car policy (if applicable) to identify whether there are any contractual provisions or guidelines on usage and maintenance of the vehicle. You should specifically check whether there is any provision suggesting that the employee is permitted to charge the vehicle on business premises, and arrangements for doing so.

If the vehicle is personally owned, the position may be different. You should first ascertain why the employee is charging their car at the expense of the business. After investigating further, you may find that the employee has a reasonable explanation for doing so. If this was a “one-off occurrence, the cost may be immaterial and you might decide not to take any formal action regarding the use of the electricity. If, however, this is to become a regular occurrence, the cost to the business could be significant, especially taking into account the rise in energy prices.

Depending on the content of your policies, you may wish to consider whether the employee asked for permission, say from their line manager, before charging their car. Following further investigation and depending on the circumstances, this could give rise to a disciplinary matter.

With respect to the extension lead used to connect the car to the mains electricity, this could constitute a health and safety risk and might cause the business to fall foul of its health and safety obligations under the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, and regulations. Employers are responsible for ensuring the health and safety of their employees, and those that are affected by their activities, and to provide a safe system of working, so far as reasonably practicable. The employee in question may have caused a trip hazard, which could cause harm to themselves,  their fellow employees or visitors and you should investigate further. This too could rise to potential disciplinary action. Before taking any disciplinary action (if appropriate) you should carry out a full investigation, in line with your disciplinary policy. If you decide upon disciplinary action, you must carry out a fair and transparent procedure in line with your policy and statutory obligations.

You may be unaware of the safety standards required of the electric vehicle. An employee using the business’ mains electricity to charge an untested electric vehicle could create significant risk to the employee as well as to fellow colleagues. Given the rise in use of electric vehicles, you could consider the installation of charging points on site, whether the vehicles are owned by the business or the employee. Charging points could be installed either in the carpark, or at the employee’s residential address.

If you do not have one already, it would be useful to have a policy on electric cars. Any policy should contain guidance on how to charge the vehicle and the use of charging points. There is potential for issues to arise, especially in the event of termination of employment, over ownership and/or liability in relation to the charging point, i.e. if it is installed at the employee’s residential address and these should be addressed in the policy and contractual arrangements with the employee.

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ESG in the Workplace | eLearning Course

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This article is correct at 27/06/2023

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Emma Doherty
Tughans LLP

The main content of this article was provided by Emma Doherty. Contact telephone number is +44 (0) 28 9055 3337 or email emma.doherty@tughans.com

View all articles by Emma Doherty