Fear of catching coronavirus is not a “protected belief” according to the Employment Tribunal

A fear of catching Covid-19 is not a “protected belief” under the Equality Act, a judge has ruled after a woman claimed she had been discriminated against by her employer. The tribunal, heard that the claimant refused to return to work in July 2020 because she had a “genuine fear” of contracting coronavirus and passing it on to her partner, who was at high risk of becoming seriously unwell.

The claim focused around the employer’s refusal to pay the employee who claimed that she had suffered financial detriment as a result, stating: “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.

Asked what her belief was, she told the tribunal: “A fear of catching Covid-19 and a need to protect myself and others.”

In his ruling, the employment judge said he accepted that the woman had a genuine fear but did not believe it met the criteria for a philosophical belief which would be protected under Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010. This was not a belief but a reaction to a threat of physical harm and the need to take steps to avoid or reduce that threat. The claim therefore failed. This ruling is likely to come as a relief to many employers who found themselves in a similar position as employees found it difficult to return to work following the easing of restrictions.

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