An employee who had her wages withheld after she refused to go to work because she feared catching Covid-19 has lost her discrimination claim.
An employment tribunal in Manchester ruled that the employee’s fear of catching Covid-19 and a belief in the need to protect herself and others did not amount to a philosophical belief worthy of protection under the Equality Act 2010.
Neither the employee or her employer were named in the judgment, which was published last month.
In a statement to the tribunal, the claimant said she decided not to return to the workplace on the grounds of health and safety on 31 July 2020. She said she was worried about the spread of the virus and had a “genuine fear” of catching it herself and passing it on to her partner, who was at a high risk of getting seriously ill from Covid-19.
When she raised her concerns with her employer, she was told she would not be paid if she did not return to work. She was allegedly told: “I do not accept you had a reasonable belief that returning to work would put you or your husband in serious and imminent danger”.
The worker claimed she had her wages withheld and suffered financial detriment as a result.
“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 statement concluded.
She said her belief in the dangers of catching Covid-19 “forms a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour”.
Although he did not dispute that the claimant had a genuine fear of catching coronavirus and that she needed to take steps to protect herself and others, employment judge Mark Leach did not find that her fear amounted to a philosophical belief.
“Rather, it is a reaction to a threat of physical harm and the need to take steps to avoid or reduce that threat,” the judgment says.
“It can also be described as a widely held opinion based on the present state of information available that taking certain steps, for example attending a crowded place during the height of the current pandemic, would increase the risk of contracting Covid-19 and may therefore be dangerous. Few people may argue against that. However, a fear of physical harm and views about how best to reduce or avoid a risk of physical harm is not a belief for the purposes of section 10 [of the Equality Act].”
The case was dismissed.