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Can Coronavirus be a reason not to come to work?

A recent case demonstrates the complexity of the issues to be considered when an employee refuses to return to work due to concerns regarding coronavirus but ultimately, if businesses adhere to government guidelines, they are unlikely to be made liable for this type of claim.

The Claimant worked in a large warehouse with around five other people. During the first national lockdown, his employer had put in place appropriate safety measures to protect staff and he accepted that social distancing was not hard in the warehouse and that frequent handwashing was practiced.

However, due to having a child with a chronic condition, and a young baby, he refused to return to work and was subsequently dismissed. He did not have the required two years service to bring a claim for ordinary unfair dismissal so brought a claim for automatic unfair dismissal on health and safety grounds, which required him to show there were circumstances of danger which he reasonably believed to be serious and imminent.

While he had serious and understandable concerns about the risk of catching coronavirus outside his home, these fears were not related to the workplace. He had not raised concerns about workplace safety and the tribunal found that the employer’s measures lived up to generally accepted standards. The tribunal dismissed his claim.



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