The government has published draft legislation that will extend to workers the protections available to employees against detrimental treatment on the grounds of health and safety. The changes will take effect from 31 May 2021.
This follows the High Court’s recent decision in R (Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB)) v. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and another (which we blogged about in November). The IWGB predominantly represents low-paid, migrant and “gig economy” members. Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, its members raised concerns about working practices, including a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), failure to implement social distancing and a failure to package samples safely.
In the High Court, the IWGB was successful in establishing that the UK had failed to transpose EU health and safety law obligations into domestic legislation. The scope of the existing legislation, contained primarily in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA), was limited to employees.
The new legislation will amend the ERA to ensure that both employees and “limb (b)” workers have the right not to be subjected to any detriment by their employer on the grounds that:
- they left or refused to attend their place of work where they reasonably believed there were circumstances of serious and imminent danger; or
- they took appropriate steps to protect themselves or others from what they reasonably believed to be circumstances of serious and imminent danger.
Employers must bear in mind that the amendments apply to all health and safety issues and not just those relating to COVID-19. Workers will have the right to bring a tribunal claim if they believe their employer has subjected them to a detriment in contravention of these new provisions.