COVID Compensation: Claiming When Working Through a Pandemic

Man rubbing hands together using hand sanitiser in restaurant

There’s no doubt that the world is a noticeably different place since the global pandemic took hold.  And despite herculean efforts by health experts and the very best clinical brains in the business, vaccines alone won’t make Covid-19 disappear entirely. As countless people have told us, essentially, it’s something we’re all just going to have to get used to living with for the foreseeable future at least.

However, there’s the somewhat grey area of compensation when it comes to contracting coronavirus in the workplace, as scores of us return to familiar employment environments, after working remotely for a relatively substantial period. Fears and anxieties will be raised for many, perhaps unconvinced by the measures in place to diminish the risk of contracting the virus whilst at work.

With the best will and intentions in the world, the actioning of Covid-safe measures, protocols and practices by employers might not ensure total immunity to Covid-19. As that’s pretty much an impossibility, irrespective of the length’s businesses will go to, to ensure the health and wellbeing of employees working through a pandemic. A pandemic that will continue to observe peaks, troughs and mutations to counter the effects of.

Assessing Risk is Fundamental for Workplace-returning Employees

As is the law, employers have a duty of care to their employees, and a legal responsibility to always maintain staff members’ health and safety in the workplace. Yet providing safeguards against what remains an unseen disease and latent threat is easier said than done. Employers are duty-bound to implement measures which actively ensure a safe system of work, premises and equipment. And all of this begins with a risk assessment being carried out.

This will establish whether conditions and procedures in place are considered the optimum in the face of a pandemic and its ramifications to us all, and if existing procedures fall short, then suggestions will be made to improve the situation then and there. To protect employees, and members of the public at all costs. In line with the current rapidly changing government guidance, employers must review and update their risk assessments regularly, to ensure that measures in place are working effectively.

Despite this, there’s no guarantee that an employee won’t catch the virus in the workplace. Although establishing exactly where someone contracts Covid-19 is easier said than done, given the ever-changing nature of the virus. But like all diseases, if it’s proven that an employee’s working conditions increased that probability, then there might be a case for a personal injury claim to arise. ‘Might’ being the operative word.

How Might Employers Fail in Their Duty of Pandemic-Prof Care in the Workplace?

In order to protect employees from potential transmission, a range of measures were originally enforced in workplaces both during the height of the pandemic, and as we emerged from the last national lockdown. These included provisions for PPE, stipulating social distancing, circulating air via good ventilation practices in buildings and maintaining hygiene levels in employment surroundings.

However, it’s no longer government law and up to the employer whether they choose to enforce the rules they believe will ensure employee safety.

It could be necessary for face coverings and gloves to be worn, and if it’s felt that certain working environments where close interactions with others is unavoidable and it can make individuals feel more comfortable in these uncertain times. From a legal perspective, employees must be provided with suitable PPE that protects them against the level of risk to their health in specific scenarios and in accordance with government guidelines.

Elsewhere, 2 metre social distancing, where possible, the installation of hand sanitisation stations and hand washing facilities, and the routine sterilizing and disinfection of equipment, machinery and workstations could be seen as precautions necessary to not only keep staff safe but allow all staff members to feel safe in their working environment.  

Can an Employer Force an Employee to Have the Covid-19 Vaccination?

This remains a highly discussed and disputed topic, and one with no definitive answer right now. As it stands, care home staff are required by law to have the jab, with compulsory vaccinations for all but those with medical exemptions. While plans to expand this to all NHS employees has gained traction of late and is said to be under consideration.

More generally-speaking – and away from the NHS and care home staff – employers rights do not extend to making employees get a vaccination against their will or beliefs. However, in certain circumstances and settings mentioned above, failure to comply might be reason for dismissal if that employer’s sector is within the NHS. Specifically, should their refusal to be vaccinated pose what’s agreed to be a threat to patients, service users and of course, themselves.

Can I Realistically Make a Claim Against an Employer for Covid-19 Compensation?

It’s a huge question. If you become sick due to catching Covid-19 in your workplace (difficult to prove) or any other public place for that matter, could you claim personal injury compensation. Or indeed, could you pursue accident at work compensation. You’ve taken all the necessary precautions, yet you’ve still contracted the disease.

This subject has legs, admittedly, yet as it currently stands there’s no definitive answer to this searching question. Covid-19 is not acknowledged as an occupation disease as such as we write. Nor is it officially recognised as an ‘accident at work’.

Which effectively means that the only possible means by which a personal injury claim for compensation could result would be if an individual contracted Covid-19 during their employment.  Which as we’ve already addressed, would be a challenge to prove that the exposure/transmission/infection cycle happened in the workplace due to lack of appropriate safeguards in place.

While some claimants could pinpoint when, where and how they were exposed to the virus at work, highlighting an employer’s absence of duty of care and/or negligence, for most the task of being able to confidently demonstrate the connection between the environment and employee activity which they believe is responsible is fraught with difficulties.

Why Is That?

According to civil law, claimants need to prove their issues based on a ‘balance of probabilities.’ In as much as you establish what caused a particular problem (in this case, exposure to Coronavirus) based on the principle of what is more likely compared to what isn’t likely. That’s why an employer would need to identify any risks of ‘causation’ that could increase the spread of disease in the first place.

We’re Here to Help You to Do It Yourself

Unlike the current Covid-19 compensation question, DIYPI thankfully provides definitive answers to a lot of personal injury claims questions. We should do, as we’ve been in the business of helping and supporting people gain compensation for accidents and injuries for over 18 years. During which time our vastly experienced and qualified team of legal experts have handled countless claims journeys for our customers; from beginning to end.

If you feel you have been the victim of negligence or a lapse in duty of care, be it from an employer, organisation, service provider or otherwise, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today to discuss your potential case.

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