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A fear of catching Covid-19 fell short of meeting the criteria to succeed with a discrimination claim

By January 5, 2022COVID-19, Employment

The Manchester Employment Tribunal has recently handed down a Judgment in a claim brought by an employee who claimed she was subjected to discrimination because of her fear of catching Covid.

In this case, which is likely to be of interest to many employers, an employee refused to return to the workplace because of her health and safety concerns in the wake of the pandemic and what she described as a “genuine fear” of catching Covid and passing this to her partner who was at risk of becoming seriously ill in the event he contracted the virus. The employer refused to pay the employee and she claimed that this financial detriment amounted to discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. Specifically, the employee argued that she held a philosophical belief in the form of “a fear of catching Covid 19 and the need to protect myself and others”.

There are criteria which must be met in order to satisfy holding a philosophical belief for the purposes of bringing a discrimination claim. This criteria includes things such as that the belief must be genuinely held, it can’t simply be an opinion or viewpoint, it must relate to a substantial aspect of human life, it must be of a sufficiently serious level and be worthy of respect in a democratic society.

While the Judge decided that some aspects of the criteria were met by the employee, including that her fear was sufficiently serious and worthy of respect, ultimately she fell short of meeting all of the requirements and it was decided that the employee’s fear of catching Covid-19 did not amount to a philosophical belief, meaning that she failed in her discrimination claim.

This case brings good news for employers in the wake of the pandemic when it might be reasonable to expect of wave of Covid-related employment claims. This type of case is probably just the start and when we consider how businesses had to respond to these challenging and unprecedented times (i.e. by making redundancies, reducing salaries, reorganising and laying off staff), there’s little doubt we can anticipate various different claims being brought in the near future.

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Nicola Clarke

Author Nicola Clarke

Nicola is a solicitor specialising in employment law and HR matters, advising both businesses and individuals on all aspects of these areas.

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