Less than two weeks now until we can eat inside restaurants and go to the cinema. No more evenings drinking in a cold pub garden, wrapped up in ten layers of clothing. But what about the many people who are returning to work. How will they feel about working inside busy restaurants and cramped cafes? Many of them won’t have had their COVID jab yet and may be worried about the health implications of returning to work. Is there anything they can do?
The Employment Rights Act does protect employees who believe they are in serious and imminent danger at work. If they are dismissed because they exercise their right to leave the workplace and take steps to protect themselves, the dismissal will be regarded as automatically unfair. But does COVID-19 create circumstances of serious and imminent workplace danger, regardless of the employer's safety precautions? Not according to a recent Employment Tribunal decision.
An employee, Mr Rodgers, messaged his manager to say that he would be staying away from his workplace "until the lockdown has eased" because he was worried about infecting his vulnerable children (a baby and a child with sickle-cell anaemia) with COVID-19. A month later, he was dismissed. He argued this was automatically unfair.
The Tribunal rejected his claim, finding that Mr Rodgers did not have a reasonable belief that he was in serious and imminent danger. Government safety guidance at the time advised hand washing and social distancing, and the employer had implemented both precautions. Mr Rodgers had not taken any steps to avert the danger or raised concerns with his manager before absenting himself from work. The Tribunal also noted that despite Mr Rodgers' concern about COVID-19, he had breached self-isolation guidance by driving a friend to hospital the day after leaving work.
This decision is not binding on other tribunals, but it does show the importance of implementing appropriate COVID-19 secure measures. Employers who do so will reduce the risk of successful tribunal claims by making it harder for employees to prove that the workplace is dangerous.
17 May: Indoor hospitality - pubs, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, museums, galleries, concert halls, children play areas, hotels, B&Bs, indoor exercise classes - will be allowed