Helen Watson, a Partner at law firm Aaron & Partners, advises of a likely increase in claims being made against employers in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic
A top employment lawyer is urging business owners to remain mindful of their duties and responsibilities as an employer ahead of an anticipated rise in claims being made by employees returning to work after the lockdown period.
Helen Watson, Head of Employment at law firm Aaron & Partners, has highlighted a number of possible claims that companies could face as UK businesses slowly begin to reopen.
She explained that despite the difficult circumstances presented by the coronavirus outbreak, this will not be enough to shield employers from courts and tribunals and warns that many are likely to see a spike in claims from employees.
Helen further explained that the effects of the current pandemic on businesses and the workforce could result in several different kinds of claims from employees in relation to their employment including:
- Constructive dismissal
- Unlawful discrimination
- Unfair dismissal
- Breach of privacy
Helen said: “With little time to prepare or plan, businesses have needed to make critical decisions whilst having to navigate ever-changing legislation and guidance set out by the government. This has in turn left many employers potentially vulnerable, with lots of business owners and managers confused about what the correct duties and responsibilities to their employees now are.
“There are a number of variables related to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic that could result in several different kinds of claims from employees, especially as businesses begin the phased return to the workplace.
“One of the greatest concerns for workers is their health and safety, and businesses will need to take all necessary steps to ensure the appropriate safety measures are in place including conducting appropriate risk assessments to identify risks for employees returning to work and planning the steps that will be taken to address those risks
“We anticipate that there will be potential dismissals as a result of staff furloughing and redundancies. For example, if employees perceive that the reason they were or weren’t furloughed – or in some cases were made redundant – related to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, they may seek to make a claim for unlawful discrimination.
The latest indicators published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that of the 6000 businesses surveyed, 76 per cent had applied for the governments job retention scheme, with 31 per cent of the workforce having been furloughed, making it the most popular of all the support schemes introduced by the government during the coronavirus outbreak.
“Employers should also be careful not to disclose the identity of individuals who have been infected with Covid-19 unless they are able to establish that it is absolutely necessary to ensure safety at work or to meet public health requirements,” added Helen.
“Where transparency and privacy rights collide, employers are faced with potential safety risks on the one hand and potential risks of breach of privacy rights on the other.
“It’s clear that employers must evaluate the potential issues that could arise in order to mitigate the risk of legal claims being brought against them. We would always recommend businesses to seek legal advice during this time.”