The government has laid down new regulations which extend the provisions of s.44(1)(d) + (e ) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996) to workers.
At the moment an employee can claim in a tribunal if subjected to a detriment because, in simple terms, they reasonably believed that being at work would place them (or someone else, such as a household member) in serious, imminent danger.
Interestingly, this right was rarely used before last year, but is now something that crops up a lot more frequently because of the rise of employees feeling anxious about travelling to, or being in, work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
So what do these new regulations mean?
The new regulations extend the protection given, so rather than it just covering ‘employees’, the protection now extends to ‘workers’. This therefore means that ‘workers’ will also be protected should they refuse to work if faced with serious and imminent danger of being exposed to COVID-19.
This is being done as a result of the decision in R (on the application of the IGWU) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions where it was held that confining such protection to employees was a breach of the EU Health & Safety Framework Directive.
When is the Order due to come into force?
If approved. It will apply to any detriments taking place on or after 31 May 2021
The above order is likely to be welcomed by workers. By having such an order in place, it will close the gap in protection for employees and workers, making them more on an even keel.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of these protections and with that comes the increased probability of these kinds of claims. Businesses therefore need to take care when dealing with staff who have raised concerns or acted on health and safety grounds.