Health and safety protections extended to workers

2 mins

Posted on 18 Nov 2020

The High Court has ruled that UK laws protecting against detrimental treatment for raising health and safety concerns do not comply with EU law. This is because they only protect employees, not a wider category of workers. 

Workers raise Covid-19 health and safety concerns

The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (“the IWGB”) represents around 5,000 low-paid migrant and gig economy workers, including couriers. It received numerous queries about COVID-19 related protection, with couriers concerned that they had not been provided with PPE and that social distancing measures were not in place at restaurants and other venues they picked up from. 

Health and safety protections should extend to workers 

The IWGB asked the court for a declaration that UK law fails to implement the EU Health and Safety Framework Directive properly as it does not protect “workers” as well as employees. The High Court agreed that the protection for workers under the Directive extends beyond employees and UK law should  protect workers. It therefore granted the declaration. 

What does this mean for employers?

The declaration means that workers, as well as employees, will be able to complain to an employment tribunal if they suffer detrimental treatment at the hands of their employer in health and safety cases. Section 44 Employment Rights Act 1996 provides employees, and now workers, with the right not to be treated detrimentally for raising health and safety concerns.  It also enables them to leave or refuse to return to an unsafe workplace (or to take appropriate steps to protect themselves and others) where they reasonably believe they are in serious and imminent danger. 

Therefore workers, as well as employees, will be able to contest the adequacy and/or suitability of safety arrangements at work without fear of recriminations. Where employers do treat employees or workers detrimentally, they can expect to face an employment tribunal claims with no cap on compensation and possibly injury to feelings awards on top. 

As the facts of this case demonstrate, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of these protections and there is now an increased likelihood of these types of claims. Employers therefore need to be careful when dealing with staff who have raised concerns or acted on health and safety grounds.   

R (on the application of the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and anor

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