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COVID fears and health & safety dismissal protection

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Rodgers v Leeds Laser Cutting Ltd

An employee has statutory protection against being dismissed where they have taken action to protect themselves in circumstances where they reasonably believe there was serious and imminent danger. The protection applies regardless of how long the employment has lasted. The case of Rodgers v Leeds Laser Cutting Ltd is one of the first to consider the application of the statutory protection where the employee’s concern relates to the risk from Coronavirus infection in the workplace.

Mr Rodgers decided to stay away from work to protect family

Mr Rodgers, a laser operator, was part of a team of five operating in a large shopfloor that was described as being about the size of half a football pitch. In March 2020 new procedures had been brought in to guard against Coronavirus. These included social distancing and frequent handwashing. However, after a work colleague had displayed symptoms Mr Rodgers informed his manager that he was staying away from work until the lockdown eased due to the vulnerability of his family.

It was decided that statutory protection on the grounds of serious and imminent danger did not apply

The Employment Tribunal held that taking into account the size of the workplace, the number of employees and the practices in place Mr Rodgers did not hold a reasonable belief that there were circumstances of serious and imminent danger. In addition he had not communicated to his employer that he believed such circumstances existed. In any event his refusal to attend work had not been appropriate meaning that the statutory protection did not apply. 

Key takeaway points

Whilst this claim failed, the statutory provisions providing protection to employees in circumstances of serious and imminent danger may apply to a situation where the employee raises concerns relating to Coronavirus risks. It will be fact dependant as to whether the employee is staying off work due to working conditions that pose a risk or whether they have decided to stay at home as a precautionary measure. This will need to be assessed taking into account what has been communicated regarding the particular risks in the workplace.

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