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PPE personal protection equipment

What If My Employer Fails To Provide Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)?27th Apr 2020

by Hugh Reid on 27th Apr 2020

Contact Hugh Reid

You have the right to safe working conditions. The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is forcing many employers to take difficult decisions – but it does not give them the right to put your life at risk.

But what if that’s exactly what they’re doing? What if you’re in a vital public-facing role and your employer has failed to issue you with the right personal protection equipment?

Two areas of employment law can protect you. Both involve unfair dismissal:

  • health and safety legislation
  • whistleblowing legislation.

Get Expert Legal Advice On Your Rights

Unfair Dismissal Due To A Health and Safety Complaint

You are responsible for your own health and safety at work. If you feel that your employer is putting your health and safety at risk then you are entitled to protect yourself.

That could mean not going to work – not going to the place that endangers you – because you have not been issued with proper and sufficient personal protection equipment.

Your employer may offer you a safer alternative such as:

  • working from home
  • a different role that does not involve direct contact with the public. 

But if this isn’t possible and your employer fires you then you could have grounds for an unfair dismissal claim. You have the right not to be dismissed if you complain about or refuse to work in an unsafe working environment.

Your dismissal will automatically be unfair if the sole or primary reason was because you complained about poor health and safety.

There is no minimum working period. You can complain about health and safety from day one if your working conditions are unsafe.

Failure to provide PPE falls into this category. If your employer ignores your repeated pleas for protective clothing – and you become ill or are injured as a result of your work – then an employment tribunal could find in your favour.

Your employer could be forced to pay you:

  • a basic award of up to £15,750 plus…
  • further payment of up to 52 weeks’ salary or a maximum cap of £86,444 (whichever is the lower amount).

Unfair Dismissal Due To Whistleblowing

You may decide to blow the whistle on your employer’s failure to provide PPE to you and your colleagues. Your disclosure should be in the public interest.

Qualifying public interest disclosures include circumstances where you believe the following has happened (or is likely to happen):

  • a criminal offence
  • breach of a legal obligation
  • a miscarriage of justice
  • a danger to the health and safety of any individual (not just you)
  • damage to the environment
  • a deliberate attempt to conceal any of the above.

You may disclose the problem to your employer first. But if you are not able to do so (because you are afraid), there is an approved list of regulators and other organisations you can contact.

It is important that you make your disclosure in ‘good faith’. If the tribunal feels that you have made the decision in ‘bad faith’ – that perhaps you had other less honourable motives – then it can reduce your compensation award by up to 25%.

To make a protected qualifying disclosure under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, you must prove that you:

  • made a disclosure
  • followed the correct disclosure procedure
  • were dismissed (or suffered a detriment) because you made this disclosure.

Penalties for unfair dismissal due to whistleblowing can be severe. There is no cap on the level of award that a tribunal can make. It will take into account:

  • your age and years of service
  • your weekly pay (before and after tax) and benefits (such as pension and company car)
  • how long you have gone without pay
  • your loss of employment rights.

Find Out More About Your Rights

Get expert legal advice on your right to personal protection equipment at work – and what you can do if your employer fails to provide it.

Contact employment law solicitor Hugh Reid at Coles Miller’s Poole office for more information.

This document is not intended to constitute and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice on any specific matter. No liability for the accuracy of the content of this document, or the consequences of relying on it, is assumed by the author. If you seek further information, please contact Managing Partner Neil Andrews at Coles Miller Solicitors LLP.