Fear of Covid is not a Protected Belief

With week after week of Coronavirus news, statistics, infection rates and deaths it’s not surprising that we’re a little wary of the prospect of catching or re-catching the virus.  This exposure to the constant rounds of measures, vaccinations and further variants can also make employees very nervous when it comes to a return to the workplace, especially after long periods working from home.

In a recent case highlighting these fears an unnamed woman brought proceedings against her employer for alleged unlawful discrimination. In one of the first cases of its kind to be heard the employment tribunal judge, Mark Leach, ruled that the fear of catching coronavirus is not a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010. 

The woman made her decision not to return to work last July and in her statement to the tribunal she said she had ‘reasonable and justifiable health and safety concerns about the workplace surrounding Covid-19’, in particular about passing the virus on to her partner who she said was ‘at high risk of getting seriously unwell from Covid-19’.

Following her decision in July Her employer said they would not pay her, a decision she claimed constituted ‘discrimination on the grounds of this belief regarding coronavirus and the danger from it to public health’.

The tribunal did not accept that ‘the claimant’s fear of contracting Covid-19 amounted to a belief’ which can be protected by section 10(2) of the 2010 act. 

Judge Mark Leach held that X’s fear ‘is a reaction to a threat of physical harm and the need to take steps to avoid or reduce that threat’.

Whilst understandable and entirely normal to have such anxieties following the trauma of coping with and adapting to life with Covid-19 it could not be considered a protected belief for the purposes of section 10 of the Equality Act and did not meet the five criteria that support a protected philosophical belief as set out by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Grainger Plc and others v Nicholson.