Tue 01 Feb 2022

Employment Law COVID-19 Round Up - February 2022

Our monthly round up of the COVID-19 news you may have missed

Mandatory vaccinations for health and care workers in England under review

The UK Government has announced that the legal requirement in England for health and care staff to be double vaccinated is to be removed, subject to consultation and Parliamentary approval.  The policy had been seen as controversial in light of the less severe effects of the Omicron variant, with doubts being cast over whether it remained a proportional step to impose on staff.  The success of the booster roll out and existing workforce challenges have also been factors in the change of policy.  However, the UK Government have confirmed that they believe those working in health and social care still have a professional duty to get vaccinated and boosted.

Fear of covid-19 not a protected belief under Equality Act

An Employment Tribunal claim which argued that a fear of catching covid-19 and passing it to others amounted to a philosophical belief under the Equality Act has failed.  The claimant had refused to return to work in July 2020 because of a fear of passing the virus to her high-risk partner. When her employer then refused to pay her, she claimed she had been discriminated against on the grounds of her philosophical belief.  The Employment Judge found that the claimant's fear was a reaction to a threat of physical harm, and it did not meet the criteria for a philosophical belief under the Equality Act.  For more on how Employment Tribunals have responded to pandemic related claims see our Covid-19 - Employment Tribunal Watch.

Covid related H&S Employment Tribunal claims increase threefold

A freedom of information request has shown that 637 claims relating to health and safety were lodged with Employment Tribunals in the 12 months to 31 March 2021.  That is a 156% increase on the number of cases citing health and safety concerns in 2019/20.  With work from home guidance being lifted in all four home nations from late January there may be a further surge in claims if workers are concerned about the covid safety measures being implemented by their employers.

Duty to provide suitable PPE extended to workers

The Personal Protective Equipment at Work (Amendment) Regulations 2022 will extend the duty on employers to provide suitable PPE to workers with effect from 6 April 2022 (in all relevant situations, not just those relating to the pandemic).  The change follows from the High Court judgment in The Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain, R (on the application of) v The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions & Ors.  The Court found that the relevant provisions of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and related secondary legislation did not properly implement EU law as it only applied to employees (and not workers).  The case was brought before the court by the IWGB union after receiving numerous queries from union members regarding Covid-19 issues including a lack of PPE between March and May 2020.

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