During the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers have had to deal with the scenario of employees refusing to attend work due to concerns for their health. In the recent case of Accattatis v Fortuna Group (London) Ltd an employment tribunal found it was not automatically unfair to dismiss an employee who refused to comply with their employer’s request to work from the office due to COVID-19.
Mr Accattatis told his employer he was not comfortable commuting into the office nor working from the office due to the risks of Covid-19 pandemic and asked his employer to place him on furlough or allow him to work from home. The employer rejected these proposals due to the fact that (a) the employee could not do his job from home and (b) furlough was not an option because the business was busy. As an alternative, the employer suggested the employee take paid or unpaid annual leave.
After the employee made three further requests to be placed on furlough, each of which were rejected, the employer dismissed Mr Accattatis.
Whilst the tribunal accepted that Mr Accattatis reasonably believed he was faced with being put at serious and imminent danger (due to the government announcing in February 2020 that COVID-19 posed an imminent threat to public health), the tribunal concluded that it was his duty to take steps to protect himself from danger or to have clearly expressed the circumstances of the danger to his employer. It was held that the demands which Mr Accattatis put onto the employer were not appropriate to protect himself from danger (the requests to work from home or be furloughed).
This case reinforces the idea that an employee cannot simply refuse to attend work due to covid-19 concerns if their employer has addressed their concerns and has undertaken the appropriate risk assessments within the workplace to accommodate working from the usual place of work.
Should you require advice on how to deal with COVID-19 related employee issues please get in touch with a member of the Glaisyers Employment Team.