Is Covid sending employment tribunals viral?

As was always expected by anyone working in employment law, legal cases caused by the Covid pandemic are on the rise.

Today, we are reporting on the results of several notable cases to reach court since the pandemic began, highlighting the pitfalls and ‘what NOT to dos’ for business owners and HR specialists to consider.

Fears do not automatically equate to funds

From heightened anxiety to shielding the vulnerable, many employees felt compelled to avoid work when the pandemic originally took hold. Now, several claims for unfair dismissal later, we consider how each one played out in the courtroom and what their results mean for employers moving into a so-called post-pandemic era.

The first comes from a recent Guardian article, which tells of a woman who insisted her fear of Covid forced her to stay home. Not an issue for her, perhaps, although it was indeed viewed that way by her employer when she repeatedly failed to show up for work.

The woman – who remains unnamed (as does her employer) – claimed discrimination on the grounds of her bosses forcing her attendance at work when the pandemic was a danger to public health. The fear of catching the virus was so intense, said the claimant, she was forced to protect herself and others. Her employer disagreed and stopped her pay. The court found in favour of the defendant and stated while her fear was indeed real, the woman had no right under the Equality Act 2010 to receive compensation.

Personnel Today reports on several cases where Covid has caused employee grievance to the point of legal proceedings.

In one such case, Rodgers vs Leeds Laser Cutting Ltd, employee Mr Rodgers claimed he could not work as he did not want to risk catching and infecting his young children. After texting the firm to explain his absence, his employment was terminated – leading to his claim for unfair dismissal.

After the court heard about the employer’s multiple attempts to minimise the risk of Covid spreading – including social distancing, reduced employee numbers and enhanced cleaning – the court found in favour of the defendant, citing their right to expect the physical attendance of their employee at work.

What about when it’s the vulnerable people at risk?

Some cases – such as Gibson vs Lothian Leisure – have proved in favour of the plaintiff. Here, Mr Gibson – a chef – was placed on furlough and then later asked by his employer to return to work to help prepare for the facility reopening to the public. Gibson voiced his concerns on feeling unsafe about the state of the premises at that time (and the potential impact on his shielding father was he to catch the virus); his employment was then terminated. The jury found Gibson was unfairly dismissed as the employer could not demonstrate any increased safety measures on the premises. Gibson received a payment of circa £24,000.

Furlough: an employee’s right?

Wrong. In fact, many cases have arisen from a misconception the worker is legally entitled to furlough over continuing to work, with Woods vs Hawkes Ltd and Kapetanakis vs Historical Souvenirs Ltd among them. Each time, the court has found in favour of the employer.

Yet when an employer has opted for redundancy instead of furlough, the result has been quite the opposite. Take Mhindurwa vs Lovingangels Care Ltd, where the plaintiff was never offered furlough but simply made redundant. The legal team acting for Mhindurwa argued this was unfair since furlough would have ensured their client’s position was ongoing.


Many claims occurred during the early stages of the pandemic when we knew little about the virus and its potential ongoing impact. Of course, now armed with more intelligence than we were in mid-2020, employers are likely in a better place to deal with employee issues reasonably. Understanding employment law is always advisable to avoid an unexpected court summons, and we highly recommend seeking expert advice from a professional.

In need of some HR or employment law advice? Wherever you are in the UK, you can arrange a chat with one of our friendly professional HR Advisors or our in-house Employment Lawyer at any time.

 Call us on 0330 0881857 or email enquiries@optimal-hr.co.uk

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Lockdown changes for employers: what do you need to know?

Lockdown v3.0 is changing. Restrictions are lifting in increments ranging from two to five weeks, with each stage of the journey affecting the commercial sector in different ways.

Whether yours is an essential service our nation relies on – emergencies and healthcare, education, manufacturing, logistics, construction, essential retail – a business that has continued to trade behind closed doors during the lockdown or one forced to close temporarily, it’s crucial to understand rules specific to you as journey toward ‘normal’. And, while the lockdown is ending, there are still plenty of rules and guidelines in place we’ll all need to continue following to help minimise the spread of the coronavirus.

So, what do you need to know about your sector and how our exit from the lockdown will impact both your customers and your teams? Here is a reminder of the proposed  ‘roadmap to freedom’ set out by our Prime Minister back in February:

March 8primary and secondary education providers reopened to all students.

March 29some sporting facilities are permitted to reopen providing they can deliver their activities outdoors – football, rugby, netball or cricket clubs for children, for example – and tennis courts, golf clubs and outdoor swimming pools for all ages.

April 12 (and not before) – hospitality reopens in part, but only where pubs and restaurants can serve customers in an outdoor setting, and self-catering holiday providers within the UK are open to trade. Commemorative events such as weddings and funerals can have up to 15 people in attendance.

May 17 (and not before) – indoor entertainment such as theatres, cinemas and children’s play centres can reopen, alongside any indoor sports facilities. The numbers permitted at weddings and funerals increases to 30.

June 21 (and not before) – nightclubs, large events in stadiums and music festivals are permitted.  

Note that the above dates are provisional and subject to change where the Government – or the ‘science’ providing the guidance – deems it unsafe to proceed.

Assuming all does go to plan, the UK could be living a life close to its previous normal by the summer. Yet some of the measures in place, certainly around social distancing, might well live on after June 21 with the Government continuing to encourage minimal people movement unless it’s altogether necessary.

The message is clear – continue working from home where possible

For those businesses able to do so, the Government has asked for employers to continue supporting a ‘work from home’ policy wherever possible, even post-lockdown. It’s a trend many may well stick to on a permanent basis, with lessons learned as to how effective it can be for some companies, as well as extremely cost-efficient.

Some employees prefer the flexibility work from home allows, not to mention the time and expense it saves on the daily commute. Technology has certainly stepped up, too, allowing for teams to continue supporting one another from multiple remote locations.  However, some of your staff do find it more difficult to work from home for a plethora of reasons and while limited space or access to technology is less a worry than issues around mental health, the reasons for an individual wanting to attend work to perform their job are all viable and must be considered.

If you’re re-opening, ensure it is safe to do so

For businesses who remained open during the latest lockdown – and those about to join them – it is critical each one provides a Covid-secure workplace to protect their teams.

As part of your ‘return to work’ strategy, employers and HR must have measures in place to ensure a safe environment for everyone. This includes conducting a risk assessment of your workplace; if you’re unsure what to include in yours, the Health and Safety Executive Covid-19 Risk Assessment document is a great place to start. The UK Government website also includes clear guidance on Covid safety that’s tailored specifically to individual sectors to help every business appreciate their legal obligations around compliance.

If you’re still unsure on how the lifting of the lockdown restrictions affects your business, seek advice from a professional people expert as soon as possible.

In need of some HR advice? Wherever you are in the UK, you can arrange a chat with one of our friendly professional HR advisors at any time.

Call us on 0330 0881857 or email enquiries@optimal-hr.co.uk

We’re also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linked In!

Covid-19 Vaccines: An Employer’s Guide

With the UK Government COVID-19 vaccination programme now in full swing, it leaves many questions for employers and their staff in terms of expectations or even the legalities around having the jab.

The media has already reported on a certain London-based plumbing company preparing a ‘no jab, no job’ policy which sees them set to exclude people without the vaccine from future employment while also paying to vaccinate all current employees. It’s likely something many businesses have been mulling over – but how does taking this position look both morally and legally?

Thankfully, our governing body – The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) – has released a guide to help business owners and HR professionals to understand their responsibility as the vaccination programme continues to gain pace and staff begin their potential return to the workplace.

Download the CIPD paper ‘Preparing for the COVID-19 Vaccination: Guide for Employers’

It is widely known the UK Government hopes to have offered the vaccine to all adults aged over 16 years by Autumn. Of course, not all will take up the offer and even if they do, this won’t leave work facilities and staff altogether void of Covid-19 and other precautionary measures such as social distancing, handwashing and protective wear may need to continue.

Since the Government has left it open to individuals to make their own choice on having the vaccination, an employer cannot yet force its staff to take up the offer of a jab as and when it comes their way. Although it is certainly within their interests to promote the vaccine amongst team members as a means for improved wellbeing, with a healthy workforce typically a happy one – and a protected workplace much more likely to drive down the level of absence caused by sick leave.

As with most things ‘people’, it comes down to HR to understand all there is to know on a subject which, in fairness, still comes with so many unknowns; and that’s before they can even attempt to manage the message! The CIPD guide serves as a great starting point for HR professionals looking to understand more on the vaccine, covering everything from adopting a workplace vaccine policy to handling questions raised by employees around the vaccine programme, how to manage staff who refuse the vaccine and guidance for female employees who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

So, while we’re still a long way from what most of us consider ‘normal’, there are a lot of employers can be doing both in preparing physically for the months to come and virtually in supporting their teams to understand what the vaccine means in terms of their role. Above all else, encouraging an ‘open door’ environment where staff feel they can ask questions – and the HR team will listen before providing an answer – will serve you well on the journey to our country’s new normal.

And the higher your team retention, the faster you’ll come out of the blocks when it’s time.

In need of some HR advice? Wherever you are in the UK, you can arrange a chat with one of our friendly professional HR advisors at any time.

Call us on 0330 0881857 or email enquiries@optimal-hr.co.uk

We’re also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linked In!