A fear of catching Covid-19 is not a protected belief under the Equality Act, a judge has ruled, after a woman claimed she was discriminated against by her employer when she refused to go into work during the pandemic.
A tribunal held in Manchester this month heard that the claimant refused to return to her workplace 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.
Neither the woman nor her employer were named in the judgment.
In a statement given to the tribunal, the worker said her employer had refused to pay her and she had suffered financial detriment as a result.
She said: “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 Mark Leach said he accepted the woman had a genuine fear but he did not believe it met the criteria for a “philosophical belief” that would be protected under section 10 of the Equality Act 2010.
He said: “I do not find that the claimant’s fear amounts to a belief. Rather, it is a reaction to a threat of physical harm and the need to take steps to avoid or reduce that threat. Most (if not all) people instinctively react to perceived or real threats of physical harm in one way or another.
“It can also be described as a widely held opinion based on the present state of information available that taking certain steps – for example, attending a crowded place during the height of the current pandemic – would increase the risk of contracting Covid-19 and may therefore be dangerous.
“Few people may argue against that. However, a fear of physical harm and views about how best to reduce or avoid a risk of physical harm is not a belief for the purposes of section 10.”
Leach added: “Fears about the harm being caused by Covid-19 are weighty and substantial. They are certainly not minor or trivial. They are about also aspects of human life and behaviour.”