An Employment Tribunal in Manchester has ruled that workers cannot claim a ‘fear of being infected with Covid’ as a reason not to go into an office.
The employment judge at the tribunal, Mark Leach, ruled it was not a legally protected philosophical belief.
The female employee who was not named, brought the case after she was not paid by her employer from July 2020, when she refused to go into the office, saying she had a ‘genuine fear’ of getting Covid-19.
The woman said her partner was at high risk of becoming seriously unwell, which impacted her decision.
In a statement to the tribunal, the employee said: “I claim this was discrimination on the grounds of this belief in regard to coronavirus and the danger from it to public health. This was at the time of the start of the second wave of Covid-19 and the huge increase in cases of the virus throughout the country.”
She said had suffered financial detriment as a result of not being paid and went to the tribunal under the Equality Act 2010.
She told the tribunal her belief was: “A fear of catching Covid-19 and a need to protect myself and others.”
Mark Leach said in his ruling that he accepted the woman’s fear but did not believe her case met the criteria for a “philosophical belief” under section 10 of the Equality Act 2010.
He said: “It can also be described as a widely held opinion based on the present state of information available that taking certain steps – for example, attending a crowded place during the height of the current pandemic – would increase the risk of contracting Covid-19 and may therefore be dangerous.
However, he added her fears may be valid, even if they could not be upheld under the Equality Act: “Fears about the harm being caused by Covid-19 are weighty and substantial. They are certainly not minor or trivial. They are also about aspects of human life and behaviour.”
Kate Palmer is the HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula explains further:
“Both discrimination and covid are serious matters, however this case suggests that fear of one does not lead to the other. This will help relieve at least some of the stress faced by already overwhelmed employers.”
She added that the case would help employers know what they are and are not able to ask from employees: “It’s important to note that this case was Employment Tribunal only, and therefore is not binding authority on other courts. A different court could well find differently on a different day, nevertheless, the ruling is indicative of the way that this matter is likely to be treated and will give some comfort to employers who are faced with similar accusations from their employees.