Can Employees Refuse to Come to Work because of COVID-19

employment rights

The affect of the pandemic continues to cause an influence how employers manage staff and businesses. The issue of health and safety in office spaces must require effective leadership to ensure employers uphold workers rights for safety . 

Recent changes in employment rights law reflect these concerns. As of the 31st of May 2021, employees have a statutory right to not be at detriment or risk of dismissal in circumstances where a reasonable belief of serious or imminent danger is present. (Employment Rights Act, 1996, section 44/100).

The design of the legislation is not specifically for COVID- 19. It does, however, include instances where employees feel in danger from other employees, such as in cases where employees are at risk of assault.

What are the Employment Rights for COVID-19 Work Leave (Case Study)

Mr Rodgers vs Leeds Laser Cutting is a recent case where Rodgers would claim unfair dismissal. This is as his dismissal would happen after leaving work for two days following a coworker catching the virus. 

Some key facts arising from the tribunal:

  1. The area size of his place of work was very large (12,000 – 14,000 square feet). Roughly half the size of a football field. 
  2. He worked as part of a team of 5 who worked together within the premises. 
  3. As previously mentioned, one of his colleagues caught the disease in March 2020.
  4. Procedures had been in place since lockdown. These include, social distancing guidelines, staggered start and break times, frequent hand washing and the cleaning of work surfaces. 

The hearing would take place at Leeds Employment Tribunal. The verdict would rule against Rodgers claim of unfair dismissal. The reasoning being that his decision to not attend work does not directly link to the working conditions. 

The decision made was that he would be able to reduce his risk of danger if he would have attended and adhered to the Covid safety guidelines. Furthermore, he could have adhered to the social distancing measures effectively because of his large working space. Additionally, he could have used the opportunity to acquire personal protective equipment that was provided. Additionally, the ability to wash and sanitise his hands was another measure he could have used to provide further safety. 

In addition, Rudgers was said to have failed  to communicate effectively that he was at serious risk to his employer before taking leave and therefore the legal protections did not apply. 


The case of Mr Rodgers vs Leeds Laser Cutting highlights how it is of utmost importance for employees to be able to show within reason that they genuinely believe that they are at serious risk of danger when leaving as a result of Covid. The keyword here is “believe”. This is because a miscalculated risk of danger is still protected as long as the belief is reasonably founded. 

It is important to note that just because this case failed for Rodgers, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t still apply in other scenarios. If a tribunal rules that an employee’s concerns are reasonable then the protections may still apply. 

Lastly, cases like this show the importance for business owners to have the right procedures and guidelines in place to ensure workers are safe and feel safe within a workplace. Employers should make an effort to ensure measures are made aware to employees and that workers can voice concerns where needed. In doing so they will promote a more fair working environment and lessen the risks of related legal action.

For more information regarding employment rights and legislation, and HR advice, contact us.