The Covid-19 pandemic caused many complications and ultimately changed the world of work for everyone. The case of Rodgers vs Leeds Laser Cutting Limited is a prime example of this. The case started in April 2020 when Darren Rodgers was dismissed by his employer, Leeds Laser Cutting Limited (the ‘Company’) because he refused to come to work throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Facts of the case
Mr Rodgers had been working as a laser operator in a warehouse alongside his 4 other colleagues. After the government announced the first lockdown, the Company decided to enlist the help of a specialist who did a risk assessment of the workplace. Following this, the Company decided to implement various safety measures.
The safety measures they implemented were providing masks for all their employees, encouraging regular handwashing and social distancing, as well as introducing staggered shifts and break times. Whilst all this was being carried out, the employees were communicated. At no point did Mr Rodgers bring up any concerns.
Subsequently, Mr Rodgers contacted his Manager stating that he would not be coming into work until “the lockdown was eased” and claiming that he was concerned he could contract Covid by coming into work and was therefore not comfortable working in the warehouse given that he had a vulnerable child with multiple underlying health problems.
In response to Mr Rodger’s stance, the Company dismissed him on the 26th of April 2020.
Following this, Mr Rodgers brought a claim for unfair dismissal to the Employment Tribunal (ET) alleging that he was dismissed for raising health and safety concerns. More particularly, that coming into the workplace presented a “serious and imminent danger”.
However, both the Employment Tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that Mr Rodger’s fear of contracting Covid-19 in the workplace did not classify as a “serious and imminent” danger. They held that Mr Rodger’s concerns for his safety were not specific to the workplace, but rather to the pandemic as a whole. Therefore Mr Rodger’s concerns that his workplace presented a “serious and imminent” danger were unfounded.
On top of this, it was found that Mr Rodgers had shared a lift with a friend while he was self-isolating and had later worked in a pub during the pandemic.
Mr Rodgers then made a further appeal to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal’s verdict:
The Court of Appeal’s verdict mirrored those previously given by both the Employment Tribunal and the EAT’s, the Court of Appeal holding that the previous verdicts were “carefully structured and reasoned”.
Our Employment Specialist’s comments:
This case once again shows the difficulties inherent in these types of claims, claims which were until the pandemic, rather rare. Dismissals of this type became a much more common battleground once the pandemic struck and the fairness or otherwise of dismissals arising from dismissals during the first lockdown, as this case shows are still being determined by Tribunals.
Notwithstanding the outcome of this case, employers should always be particularly careful when dealing with health and safety concerns raised by employees. In such cases, the law affords employees special protection.
For instance, employees do not need the normal two-year continuous service to bring a claim for ordinary unfair dismissal and once an employee has shown that they were dismissed for a reason connected with refusing to attend work due to a reasonable belief that they are in serious and imminent danger in the workplace, their claim should succeed. They do not need to prove the unreasonableness of such a dismissal, as one does for ordinary unfair dismissal claims.
For employers who receive such concerns from their staff, it is imperative that they communicate, and communicate effectively, with their staff, documenting discussions and keeping applicable HSE guidance at the forefront of their minds. Risk assessments should be considered to deal with any new or prevailing risks.
If you need legal advice concerning this employment issue or any other employment-related issues or have any questions, you can speak to Lloyd Clarke on 01206 or email him at Lloyd.firstname.lastname@example.org