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Fear of Catching Covid-19

By Lee Xuan Yi

An employment tribunal has ruled that ‘fear of catching coronavirus’ is not a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010.

What happened?

A claimant refused to return to her workplace in July 2020, resulting in her employer withholding salary. The claim was brought on the grounds that due to a large spike in cases at the time, the claimant had a ‘genuine fear’ of contracting COVID-19 and passing it to her high-risk partner.

It was argued that this genuine fear amounted to a ‘philosophical belief’ which was protected under s.10(2) Equality Act 2010. The claim alleged that the employer was acting discriminately with regards to beliefs about COVID-19 and its health dangers.

The judgment

The judge rejected this claim, stating that while the claimant’s genuine fear was cogent, it was better described as a widely held opinion rather than a philosophical belief to be protected from discrimination.

What about Singapore?

As of December 2021, Singapore has yet to see an employment claim brought on similar COVID-19 grounds as the UK. Ministry of Manpower guidelines stipulate that by default, provided employees can work from home, employers must ensure that they continue to do so far at least half their working time, measured over a reasonable period not exceeding four weeks. Exceptions exist for the clinically vulnerable, where employers must ‘pay special attention’ and enable teleworking.

Interestingly, there is no obligation on employers in Singapore to accommodate employees with clinically vulnerable persons at home.


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