Q&A - I got COVID-19 after return to workplace with no safety systems. Can I sue?

Q:    I returned to work in June after being on furlough. Several days after that I developed a temperature and dry cough. I went into self-isolation and tested positive for Covid-19. I had a short spell in hospital but I am now much better. I am convinced that I contracted the virus at work. No safety systems were in place and the office layout meant staff could not adhere to social distancing. My concerned friend at work asked HR if she could see the coronavirus risk assessment and was advised it has not yet been finalised. Could I make a claim against my employer?

A:    Every employer has a legal duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of their employees. It is essential that employers identify risks to the health and safety of their employees whilst at work, by undertaking a thorough risk assessment. 

Employers should closely monitor government advice. Steps need to be taken, for example, to implement social distancing measures, to provide suitable PPE where needed, and to ensure appropriate facilities are available to wash hands and disinfect work areas. 

Employers who cannot demonstrate that they have taken sensible steps to reduce risks will find themselves vulnerable if a claim is brought. Your employer falls into this category, by failing to complete relevant risk assessments and implement coronavirus policies. However, to establish liability you must also prove that those workplace breaches caused you to catch COVID-19. That may prove difficult due to the many other potential causes of transmission. Similar problems arise when bringing claims for food poisoning, as it is often difficult to establish the source of the illness.

This is a changing situation which all lawyers are monitoring closely as cases will range from the trivial to the fatal. You should contact a local solicitor for advice.

Article 24/08/2020

This question has been answered by Claire Parfitt a Solicitor with GHP Legal.  If you would like to speak to someone about this or any other legal matter it is still possible and we are doing everything we can to ensure that we continue to offer our high levels of service to our clients.  In accordance with government guidelines, most of our lawyers are currently working remotely which means you may not now receive a response as promptly as you may expect. Please kindly bear with us and we will respond as soon as we are able.

Where possible, we ask that you communicate with us by phone or email. If you have a new enquiry, please use the ‘Contact us’ form on the website or call Oswestry 01691 659194 or Wrexham 01978 291456. As a firm, you will appreciate that we are still extremely busy, and whilst our colleagues are well equipped to work remotely, due to current circumstances work may be interrupted – however cases are still ongoing and will be prioritised by urgency and need. Stay safe and thank you for your support.

Claire Parfitt

Claire Parfitt

Senior Solicitor

Senior Solicitor within our Civil Litigation team in Wrexham and Oswestry

Robert Williams

Robert Williams

Partner and Complaints Handler

Partner and Head of the Civil Litigation, Personal Injury and Dispute Resolution team in Wrexham