Employment Advice

Dismissal for refusing to work on Covid-19 related grounds ruled unfair

The Employment Tribunal has found that an employee was unfairly dismissed for refusing to work on Covid-19 related grounds, in one of the first decisions around employment law during the pandemic.

19 Jan 2022

Team name
Esther Marshall

Esther Marshall

The Employment Tribunal has found that an employee was unfairly dismissed for refusing to work on Covid-19 related grounds, in one of the first decisions around employment law during the pandemic.

Mr Preen was employed by Coolink Limited as an air conditioning and refrigeration engineer. His work included both routine maintenance and reactive repairs in a variety of locations, including hospitals, the food industry and private homes.

On the evening of 23 March 2020, the Prime Minister announced that from that day, people should only leave their homes in very limited circumstances, including travel to and from work, but only where that was “absolutely necessary” and could not be done from home. These restrictions were included in the Coronavirus Act 2020 which received Royal Assent on 25 March 2020.

Mr Preen had a job booked in for 24 March 2020, and this was for a routine maintenance as opposed to an emergency repair. He contacted his employer after the Prime Minister’s announcement by WhatsApp and said “…we all have a responsibility to do what’s being asked. Therefore I am going to stay at home and would urge you to do the same. I understand that if any call out is urgent and / or essential I will come in to help out of course but unless this is the case I think it best we all do what’s being asked.”

Mr Preen’s evidence to the Tribunal was that he did not consider routine maintenance to be a lawful reason to leave home, and was concerned about the risk to himself, colleagues and customers. He said that he genuinely believed that it was unsafe to go to work. In response to Mr Preen’s refusal to attend work, he was dismissed. His employer told him that he could not afford to pay him if he was not going to come to work.

Mr Preen claimed that his dismissal was automatically unfair pursuant to section 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. This states that an employee is unfairly dismissed if the principal reason for his dismissal is that he brought to his employer’s attention, by reasonable means, circumstances connected with his work which he reasonably believed were harmful or potential harmful to health or safety.

The Tribunal found that the WhatsApp message sent by Mr Preen on 23 March 2020 did bring circumstances connected with his work to his employer’s attention which he believed were potentially harmful to health and safety. The Tribunal also found that Mr Preen did reasonably believe that going to work, other than for emergencies, would put himself and others at unnecessary risk. This was the principal reason for his dismissal, and that dismissal was therefore automatically unfair.

M&P Commentary

Esther Marshall, Senior Associate Solicitor in our Dispute Resolution department, said:

“The pandemic was, and continues to be, extremely challenging for many employers and employees. Employers had to react to ever changing regulations and guidance, and it is inevitable that some of the decisions made will, with the benefit of hindsight, be found to be wrong.

This case turned on quite a specific set of facts, and the timing around the Prime Minister’s announcement on 23 March 2020 along with the distinction between routine and emergency work featured heavily in the Tribunal’s decision. It is not the case that all unfair dismissal claims arising out of the pandemic will go the same way.

The Tribunal did stress that it is important that Employees should be able to raise genuine and reasonably held concerns about health and safety, without fear of being dismissed as a result. The key is that those beliefs are both reasonable and genuine.

If you believe that you have been unfairly dismissed, or are an employer facing a Tribunal claim, we are here to provide advice and assistance.”


Ranked highly in Romford and Brentwood for solicitor firms

Trusts and Probate
We would like to thank Anne and Manzurul for helping to make our probate application go smoothly and efficiently. We found the process very professional.
M McDermott
From start to finish our needs were handled with all due care and attention to detail.
Residential Property
Svetlana at Mullis & Peake recently handled our divorce transactions and house purchase, no fuss, straight forward advice, great communication and handled efficiently.
Residential Property
Trusts and Probate
Excellent service and very good advice on both recent matters. Mullis & Peake have acted for our family for many years and have proved very professional on each occasion
Residential Property
Mullis & Peake dealt with both the sale and purchase for my mum's properties. Paul is professional, helpful and efficient. Explained all the processes in a timely manner. Top quali...
I've found the service I've received at Mullis and Peake to be courteous, professional and highly recommendable.
Special thanks to Roisin McCorry for her professionalism, resolve, patience, and the support she provided during this very difficult time.
Dispute resolution
Extremely satisfied with service received from Mullis & Peake. I would thoroughly recommend their service as they were recommended to me.

Related News insights

Commercial Disputes, Legal, Business, Contract Disputes & Debt Recovery, Debt Recovery
Start the new tax year with better debt recovery processes
Family & Divorce, Legal, Divorce, Family law
No more blame but challenges remain for divorcing couples
Dispute Resolution, Legal, Landlord & Tenant (Residential)
Assured Shorthold Tenancies: A guide to the Section 21 Procedure
Legal, Wills & Power of Attorney, Wills
Wills validity challenges in the news