Employers Must Respect Workers' Concerns for Health and Safety

From May 2021, legislation will extend to workers the protection already afforded to employees in cases where an employer meets out detrimental treatment on the grounds that the worker has taken action in the interests of health and safety. 

The extension will align the rights conferred under the Employment Rights Act 1996 with the High Court's recent decision in R (Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and another and will provide certainty to both employers and workers.

What Is the Protection From Detriment?

At present, an employee (and only an employee) can bring an employment tribunal claim if they have been subjected to detrimental treatment by their employer because they left work, refused to work or, took appropriate steps due to having a reasonable belief that being at their workplace would place them (or other persons) in serious and imminent danger. 

Where an employee raises health and safety concerns, any action short of dismissal could amount to a detriment that is unlawful. Detriment is a broad term and includes being put under some disadvantage. In the context of employment, this may include disciplinary action, demotion or failure to promote. 

Who Will Be Protected?

From May 2021, workers, including individual contractors and consultants (and employees), will benefit from protection from detriment. Recent cases, such as the much-publicised [Uber case], have confirmed that this worker category includes a significant number of individuals performing work personally, all of whom will now benefit from this protection.

Examples of disadvantage which may affect workers may include failure to investigate concerns, reassignment or relocation, bullying or harassment.

Actions Points for Employers

The ongoing pandemic has brought health and safety and the requirement for businesses to ensure safe workplaces and systems of work to the very front of the minds of employers, employees, and workers in many workplaces, including construction, manufacturing, hospitality, and offices.

Employers should ensure that:

  • There are policies and processes in place to quickly recognise and respond to health and safety concerns raised;
  • Ensure that policies are updated to recognise that concerns raised by workers, contractors and consultants are dealt with in addition to concerns raised by employees;
  • All health and safety concerns receive the due consideration that they deserve; and 
  • Employees and workers do not suffer disadvantage because of raising concerns that they reasonably hold.

We're Here to Help

If you would like further information or advice, please contact our Employment Team on 0161 941 4000 or email The Employment Team for more information.