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Fear of catching Covid-19

Can a fear of catching Covid-19 and an employee’s desire to protect themselves amount to a philosophical belief for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010?

This question was considered in a recent case heard by Manchester Employment Tribunal.

Somewhat unusually for an Employment Tribunal case, the parties are anonymous in the judgment handed down; however, the ET heard that the Claimant didn’t return to her place of work in July 2020 as she was afraid of contracting coronavirus. The Claimant explained that she had “reasonable and justifiable health and safety concerns” around Covid-19 in the workplace. As a result of this, her employer informed her that if she did not attend work, she would not be paid.

The Claimant submitted that her fear of contracting Covid-19 was a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010 and that she had suffered financial detriment as a result of not being paid. She said that “I claim this was discrimination on the grounds of this belief in regard to coronavirus and the danger from it to public health. This was at the time of the start of the second wave of Covid-19 and the huge increase in cases of the virus throughout the country.

The ET accepted that her fear of contracting the virus was genuine; however, it did not accept that fear of physical harm and views about how best to reduce or avoid a risk of physical harm is capable of amounting to a philosophical belief for the purposes of the Act. The belief was therefore not protected and the discrimination claim failed.

If you have any queries about discrimination related to Covid-19 or any other discrimination queries, please get in touch with one of our team for more details on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.

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