The Employment Tribunal has held that a fear of catching Covid-19 is not a protected belief for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.
An employee refused to return to work due to a fear of catching Covid-19 and passing it onto her partner. The employer refused to pay the employee if they did not return to work. The employee argued they’d been discriminated against on the grounds of their fear being a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 (EQA). The tribunal disagreed – the employee’s view didn’t amount to a genuine philosophical belief under the EQA because it was an opinion and reaction to potential physical harm at that very specific period of time.
Whilst a useful decision for employers in managing any reluctance to return due to Covid-concerns, your health and safety obligations still remain a priority:
Communicate – ensure employees have access to your policies and procedures (including where to raise concerns), and communicate the steps you’re taking with regular reminders. Where employees do have concerns, listen proactively, keep a record, make adjustments where necessary, and reassure them that you’re taking all necessary steps.
Risk assessments – make sure yours is up to date to demonstrate you’re continually thinking about the risks employees face. There’s no expectation for you to eliminate risk entirely, but you do need to do everything reasonably practicable to minimise risks.
Get in touch if you need any advice or support managing potential Covid-concerns.