Fear of Catching Covid at Work is not a Protected Philosophical Belief - MLP Law

Fear of Catching Covid at Work is not a Protected Philosophical Belief

A recent decision in the Manchester Employment Tribunal has determined that staff cannot rely upon a fear of catching or spreading Covid-19, to justify a refusal to return to the workplace.

Fear of Catching Covid at Work is not a Protected Philosophical Belief


A recent decision in the Manchester Employment Tribunal has determined that staff cannot rely upon a fear of catching or spreading Covid-19, to justify a refusal to return to the workplace.
 
Facts
The Claimant had a ‘genuine fear’ of catching the virus and, in particular, of passing it to her partner who she described as being at high risk of becoming seriously unwell. Given her position, she did not attend work and raised a claim when her employer withheld her pay.
 
Law
The complaint raised was one of unlawful discrimination, on the grounds that Covid-19 was a danger to the public and that holding that view amounted to a ‘religion or philosophical belief’ and was accordingly protected by legislation. The Judge, however, held that worries of suffering from a Covid infection and spreading it are not legally protected philosophical beliefs. This allowed the employer to withhold the pay of the individual who was unwilling to attend work.
 
Comment
Given that the tribunal’s decision does not set a wider legal precedent (due to it being a court of first instance), employers should be wary of relying on it wholesale. That said, it does provide useful guidance for employers, indicating that employees do not have an unchallengeable right to remain away from the workplace due to fears of catching or spreading Covid-19. This will be particularly relevant when the current work from home guidance is relaxed.
 
Employers should be mindful, however, of their general health and safety obligations to protect staff when at work, which would include taking sensible precautions to ensure that the workplace is Covid-secure.
 
If you would like to advice from the Employment team at MLP Law in respect of any of the issues raised here or more generally, please do not hesitate to get in touch on 0161 926 9969 or employment@mlplaw.co.uk, or follow us on Twitter @HRHeroUK.

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