CORONAVIRUS - 03.11.2020

Can an employee sue you if they catch coronavirus at work?

Many employees are back at their normal place of work, either permanently or for the odd day. If such an employee catches coronavirus and claims this happened at work, can they sue you?

Legal duty

All employers who require staff to attend their workplaces must ensure that those premises are “Covid-Secure”. This is a legal requirement.

As part of this process, you must carry out an adequate risk assessment and put in place all necessary health and safety measures.

Proper measures

This could include having staggered start and finish times, installing screens between desks, providing PPE and redesigning working practices, etc.

Let’s suppose that you’ve done everything you possibly can to make your workplace Covid-Secure yet an employee contracts coronavirus and suffers adverse effects.

Is it your fault?

If the employee alleges that they caught coronavirus at work, can they sue you, e.g. for lost wages and/or damages for any longer term health issues that they encounter?

They can certainly try but, unless the employee is able to prove that some form of negligence occurred on your part, they’re going to have an uphill struggle.

An employer can be found negligent if they don’t implement all appropriate Covid-Secure measures, ask staff to work in a potentially dangerous way or fail to ensure that staff follow the rules, but that doesn’t mean the employee is on to a winner.

Look at the facts

Even where these situations arise the employee will still have to demonstrate that they actually caught coronavirus in your workplace.

Assuming there are no other cases in your workplace, i.e. this employee’s illness is the only known case, that’s going to be hard. In this scenario, your insurer would almost certainly want to know who else the employee came into contact with outside of work and how they’ve protected themselves.

After all, it’s possible that the employee caught coronavirus whilst travelling on public transport, from a family member or a friend whom they’ve had close contact with.

Personal responsibility

In addition, your insurer would likely investigate to what extent the employee followed - or didn’t follow - your workplace rules.

Tip. If the employee was known to have flouted your implemented Covid-Secure or other safety measures, they’re probably not going to be able to blame you for any adverse consequences.

Tip. This is particularly true if you have clearly set out your Covid-Secure measures, explained what you expect of employees and spoken to any staff who don’t follow the rules. It’s also worth issuing periodic reminders about social distancing (see The next step ).

If you’ve conducted an adequate risk assessment, implemented all Covid-Secure safety measures, issued routine social distancing reminders and spoken to those who have flouted the rules, employees will struggle to sue you. They will also have to prove the source was definitely your workplace which may well be impossible.

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