Health and Safety protection

Gig economy workers gain the same Health and Safety protection as employees.

(Updated 25th May 2021)

In November 2020, The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain bought a case representing gig workers, in relation to their health and safety because they could be exposed to COVID-19, and the High Court decided that workers are entitled to the same protection as employees (under the Employment Rights Act 1996).  This means that workers cannot suffer detriment or a disadvantage during their employment, or be dismissed, if they take steps to protect themselves (or raise concerns) by refusing to work when faced with a serious danger of being exposed to COVID-19.  Employees already have this right.

The Court also decided they are entitled to be provided with any necessary PPE by their Employers.

As many gig workers are courier drivers and cyclists this was an important judgement.  The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain represents about 5,000 workers, and many of their members had concerns that they were not being given PPE by their employers, that social distancing rules were being ignored, and that they were at risk of being suspended or terminated from their job if they took steps to protect themselves by stopping work.  The Union also heard from medical couriers who were carrying COVID-19 samples that were not packed properly.

The Court upheld that there had been a failure by the UK Government to implement Article 8(4) and (5) of the EU Health and Safety Framework Directive (No.89/391), so protection from detriment on health and safety grounds under S.44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 applied to ‘employees’ only (and not to workers).

The Government missed the deadline to appeal the ruling and must now take legislative action to extend health and safety protections to ‘gig economy’ and workers.

The Government have now amended the law and from 31st May 2021 the Employment Rights Act 1996, Section 44, will be amended, extending the protection against detriment (i.e. disciplinary action) for taking action or steps (i.e leaving the workplace or refuse to return to the workplace)to protect themselves or others in certain health and safety situations, to workers.

Section 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 will not be amended – as this gives employees protection from dismissal in the same situation.

You can read about the employment rights that workers have here.