A Manchester Employment Tribunal has ruled that employees cannot use fear of catching Covid as a reason not to return to the workplace. The Tribunal found that worry of getting infected with the virus is not a legally protected philosophical belief.
In X v Y, the claim that the fear of contracting Covid amounted to a ‘belief’ for the purposes of the Equality Act was rejected, and a discrimination claim on this point failed. Whilst this was a cogent belief, and worthy of respect in democratic society (two of the key tests for a belief to be a ‘protected belief’ set out in Grainger v Nicholson), it was in reality a reaction to the threat of physical harm, and the steps necessary to reduce or avoid that threat.
This was undoubtedly a ‘…widely held opinion based on…information available…’ (Judge Mark Leach commenting in the case), but that was not enough to make this a belief worthy of legal protection.
“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 treated and will give some comfort to employers who are faced with similar accusations from their employees.
“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.”