Employer COVID FAQs

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Employer COVID-19 FAQs

Is an employee’s fear of catching a serious disease a philosophical belief?

A fear of catching a disease is unlikely to amount to a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. 

A philosophical belief is one of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act, so if a worker is treated less favourably because of that belief, they can claim they’ve been discriminated against. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, an employment tribunal decided that an employee’s fear of catching COVID-19 didn’t amount to a philosophical belief.  It thought the belief was genuinely held, cogent, weighty and worthy of respect.  But, their belief didn’t amount to a philosophical belief because it was really an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available, rather than being a philosophical belief.

Can an employee refuse to come to work during a pandemic?

Probably not as there isn’t any blanket right for them to refuse to attend work.  This was highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic when an employee refused to go to work as they were concerned about infecting their young children.  The employee did this even though their employer had taken additional steps to make the workplace safe, such as requiring social distancing and increasing the amount of cleaning it did. 

The employee went to an employment tribunal and argued that they’d been dismissed for refusing to go to a dangerous place of work.  The tribunal decided that the employee had refused to go to work because of their general concerns about health, rather than for any specific concerns about their workplace being unsafe, so their employer was able to sack them for not turning up.

Can we make an employee redundant even though there is a furlough scheme running?

It’s likely you can, but only if you follow a fair procedure and consider alternatives to making them redundant, such as furloughing them. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic there were a couple of cases that highlighted this.  In the first case the employer decided that it needed to make a long-term reduction in staffing levels due to Covid.  It looked at the furlough scheme, but it concluded this wouldn’t help them as it didn’t know how long the scheme would last and it needed a long-term solution.  The tribunal decided the redundancy was fair and that it was for the employer to decide how it structured its business and whether it made redundancies.  In the second case the employment tribunal decided the dismissal was unfair because the employer had made the employee redundant without even considering whether it should furlough them. The tribunal took the view that this was exactly the type of situation that the furlough scheme envisaged, and so the employer should’ve looked at it as a possible alternative to redundancy.

Can we force an employee to take a pay cut to save costs?

Your employees’ rates of pay are contractual terms that can only be changed if both you and the employee agree to the change.  It’s okay for you to ask one or more of your employees to take a pay cut, particularly if you need to save costs.  But, you can’t force anyone to take a cut without their agreement.

If one of our employees refuses to take a pay cut, can we sack them?

If you’ve asked your employees to take a pay cut, it’s up to them whether they decide to do so or not.  If one or more decide not to accept the cut, you may wish to dismiss them instead.  If you do, it could well be a ‘fair’ dismissal as a pressing business need to save money can be a potentially fair reason for dismissal.  This is because the need to dismiss an employee for not taking a pay cut when it’s necessary, may fall into the category of ‘some other substantial reason’ that justifies a dismissal.  It will then come down to whether you follow a fair procedure before you dismiss the, which will normally include discussing your reasons for the need for the pay cut, their reasons for objecting to it and looking at any alternatives to dismissal.

Can we sack an employee for refusing to wear a face mask?

Yes, you can, in the right circumstances.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, an employee was required to attend customer’s sites as part of his role as a lorry driver.  He was asked to wear a mask on site, but he refused to, so the customer banned him from their site.  As a result of the customer’s ban, the employer dismissed the employee who then claimed that he had been unfairly dismissed.  The Employment Tribunal decided that the dismissal was fair, particularly given the need of the employer to maintain good relations with its customer. 

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