A few weeks ago, early in the Covid-19 crisis before the evidence in relation to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people being recorded by the ONS as four times more likely to die from a Covid-19 related cause than white people, I was on a webinar where a question was asked about this issue as the rumours had started to build that this might be the case.  I felt really uncomfortable that the person answering the question gave a knee jerk reaction that of course any singling out of someone in relation to the treatment that they receive would be racial discrimination.             

Whilst I understand that reaction, because of course that is what has been drummed into us, it can’t be right that an employer can ignore the fact that even accounting for differences in age, sex, geography and self-reported health and disability factors, Black people are twice as likely to die from the virus and individuals from Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian and mixed ethnicity backgrounds also have a high risk of death compared with the rest of the population.  

As a society, where we have got little scientific understanding yet of the factors underlying this disproportionately high death rate, we are putting workers in a position where returning to the workplace is becoming a decision between earning a living and safeguarding their health.  

There is no official Government guidance on this issue which feels like it is being ducked. NHS England issued guidance that NHS employers should be risk assessing those from BAME backgrounds along with others who could be at a higher risk (presumably those with health conditions) so that they could make appropriate arrangements. We agree with this advice.

Any employer should be concerned about the statistics revealed by the ONS.  As part of the return to work risk assessment and consultation process that every employer, irrespective of their size, should be undertaking, one of the key questions they need to be discussing with their staff is the extent to which they feel safe or not.  We should be saying to all staff that we are aware that there are those within our community who will feel more vulnerable than others, for a whole variety of reasons and this may include those from a BAME background as well as those living with someone shielding, those with health issues and those who are pregnant.  We should be encouraging staff to talk to us about their concerns and circumstances with a view to taking steps that are within the employer’s remit to protect them. This is a very individual thing.

I discussed in a previous Blog that anyone fearing serious imminent danger in the workplace, is protected at law.  Please click here to read the previous Blog.  That applies to BAME workers as well as anyone else who fears they have been put in a position of serious imminent danger in the workplace, and they don’t have to show actual risk: if they had a reasonable belief that the workplace was presenting that serious and imminent danger then they are covered.

So what sorts of things can an employer be doing?  We are used to the idea of reasonable adjustments for a disability – the same mindset needs to apply here.  What steps can we take to protect the worker? Working from home is an obvious win, redeploying to a safer role would also be appropriate in so long as it is being done with the consent of the employee, so that might mean a less customer facing role or sitting in a safer place. We should be supporting those who have concerns rather than threatening them, reviewing working practices to ensure that social distancing rules are being abided by, thinking about hygiene and protection measures with proper training for workers about the correct usage of PPE.

We ought to not be afraid to have a conversation with any of our staff about how they are feeling and the measures that we are taking to protect them. In particular, my fear is that employers will have posted on social media their support for things like the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and may be failing staff on the other hand, by not taking this issue seriously. Don’t be one of those employers.

Refreshing Law Limited

18 June 2020