Statutory health and safety protections should extend to workers

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What was the case of R v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and another the High Court?

Employees are protected against detriment or dismissal on the grounds of health and safety. In the case of R (on the application of the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and another the High Court has been asked to declare that these provisions fail to comply with EU legislation which requires that member states should have in place protection for not just employees but also those engaged as “workers”.

What were the facts of the case?

The Employment Rights Act 1996 provides that employees will have a right not to be subjected to any detriment or be dismissed for having done certain actions related to health and safety concerns. The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain represents large numbers of workers particularly in the gig-economy who fall outside of this protection. It issued Judicial Review proceedings challenging whether the legislation excluding workers was valid.

Did the court decide the provisions were compliant with EU law?

The High Court held that the provisions in the national legislation relating to health and safety protection were not compliant with the EU Health and Safety Framework Directive as they limited the protection to just employees. The Directive required such protection to extend to all those who would fall within the wider meaning of 'worker' specific to EU law, which covered any person who performed services for and under the direction of another person in return for remuneration. 

Key takeaway point

This opens the door to potential claims from workers who have suffered any detriment in circumstances where they have raised matters of concern regarding health and safety. This could for example relate to lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) or other failures to comply with COVID-19 workplace guidance. Whilst EU legislation will lapse with Brexit at the end of the year the government has previously stated that EU-derived employment rights will be retained.

Do you require any more information regarding The Employment Rights Act 1996?

If you have any queries about The Employment Rights Act 1996 issues and/or disputes, please get in touch and we will be happy to advise you. 

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