Does a fear of catching COVID-19 amount to a philosophical belief?
No, according to the Employment Judge in X v Y.
In this case, the Employment Judge had to decide, in a claim for discrimination, whether an employee’s fear that she might catch COVID-19 amounted to a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.
A link to the Judgement can be found here.
Under the Equality Act 2010, an employee is protected from discrimination because they hold (or do not hold) a particular religious or philosophical belief. Religion and belief is one of nine protected characteristics.
In order to show that the individual poses a philosophical belief, they must show:-
- The belief is genuinely held;
- It is a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint, based on the present state of information available;
- The belief must relate to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- It has a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
- It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society.
In the case of X v Y, the Claimant was pursuing a claim for unlawful discrimination on the basis that a fear of catching COVID-19 and a need to protect herself and others, amounts to a philosophical belief.
The Claimant stated that she had made the decision not to return to the workplace on the grounds of health and safety as she was very worried about catching and spreading COVID-19. Her employer withheld her wages as a result of her refusal to return to the workplace.
The Employment Judge held that the Claimant’s fear does not amount 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.
Interestingly, this is the first case that we have seen where a Claimant has pursued a claim for unlawful discrimination on the basis that a fear of catching COVID-19 amounts to a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010.
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If you believe you have suffered from unlawful discrimination in the workplace, our Employment Team would be happy to assist you. Please contact us for a free initial discussion on 01202 525333 or email our Employment Solicitor, Rebecca Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org
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