Living With COVID-19: What Is Changing in England and What Does It Mean for Employers?

On 21 February 2022, the U.K. government announced its “Living with COVID-19’” plan. This month’s U.K. Employment Law Update outlines the key changes in England and what it means for employers.

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Employment Law Update: Employer Restrained from ‘Firing and Rehiring’, Dismissal for Raising Frivolous Grievances, and Employment Status of Taxi Driver

Tesco Restrained From ‘Firing and Rehiring’ Employees

In USDAW and ors v Tesco Stores Ltd [2022] EWHC 201 (QB), the High Court (HC) granted an injunction to restrain U.K. supermarket giant, Tesco, from ‘firing and rehiring’ employees who did not agree to the removal of a permanent right to a benefit.

This decision is significant as it offers a potential new legal remedy for employees whose employers are looking to ‘fire and rehire’ them in order to remove a permanent entitlement. The practice of ‘fire and rehire’ was already controversial and under increasing scrutiny prior to this decision, and it will be interesting to see the extent to which employers will try to deploy it in the future.

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U.K. Employment Tribunal Decisions: When Employees Refuse to Attend the Workplace for Fear of COVID-19

Recent Employment Tribunal (ET) decisions have shed light on the risks that can arise for employers where employees refuse to attend the workplace because of COVID-19 concerns. We consider below how ETs have dealt with claims of discrimination and automatic unfair dismissal related to COVID-19.

Discrimination

In X v. Y (ET 241947/2020), an employer withheld an employee’s wages after she refused to attend the workplace due to her fear that she would contract COVID-19 and pass it on to her vulnerable husband. The employee brought a claim for unlawful discrimination arguing that her opinion regarding the risk of COVID-19 and the need to protect herself amounted to a philosophical belief that was capable of constituting a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. The ET disagreed. It found that the employee’s view was not a philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act 2010 but “a widely held opinion based on the present state of information” and a “reaction to a threat of physical harm”. Her claim therefore failed.

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EEOC Issues New COVID-19 Guidance Addressing Vaccinations in the Workplace

Today, after much anticipation and just in time for the Memorial Day holiday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released updated guidance on COVID-19 vaccination issues raised under federal equal employment laws. We outline five things you need to know about the new guidance.

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Can U.K. Employers Make COVID-19 Vaccinations Mandatory?

With the arrival of a new year and a promising COVID-19 vaccine, many U.K. employers have expressed renewed interest in returning to the workplace. But those hoping a mandatory vaccination policy will serve as a silver bullet to reopening plans should proceed with caution. Whilst there may be certain settings in which such a policy is reasonable, pursuing it could trigger a number of legal implications.

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UK Government Extends Furlough Scheme

As England experiences a second lockdown, the UK Government has announced an extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (also known as the furlough scheme) to protect businesses and employees as the pandemic continues to adversely impact the economy. Additionally, new regulations have come into force in England which oblige employers to ensure their employees are complying with any requirement to self-isolate.

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