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COVID deniers

Hi all,

I've searched the forums but not been able to find anything related to this so does anyone have any experience or guidance when it comes to dealing with Covid deniers in the workplace? 

We hired someone a couple of months ago and despite making our Covid-19 procedures clear ahead of her first day we were a bit taken aback when they turned up to work without a face covering on (having seemingly ignored the signs of the front door stating this was mandatory and required by law) and when challenged stated they didn't believe in them and didn't wear one in any other settings, however they have complied with our requirements since then. 

Recently, a number of colleagues have raised concerns to their manager that this employee has been making their views on Covid clear (that they think it is a hoax etc etc) which has upset a number of people who have either had it themselves or friends/ family who have and in some cases known people who have sadly died because of it. This employee has also supposedly told people they doesn't pay any attention to Covid restrictions outside of work which has caused some further anxiety amongst their colleagues who fear this person may introduce it into the workplace- as a manufacturer we have a number of employees who are unable to work from home. 

Ironically, we are a scientific company and even been involved in the fight against Covid-19 by manufacturing hand sanitizer, disinfectants and testing kits for Covid- and this employee has a BSc in Biological Sciences! We have been incredibly fortunate thus far in that we have had no cases of workplace transmission and this is in no small part due to the efforts of our employees, both in and outside of work. I know we can't control what people do outside of work and everyone is entitled to their opinion, no matter how misguided it may be. I'm also aware that in a company of 350 people we probably have more than one Covid denier but this is the first one to make their position know (we certainly have a few anti-vaxxers but that's another matter!). 

I'm doubtful that this person will pass their probationary period as just 2 months in is already showing a bad attitude but I'm curious to see if others have encountered this and how they have dealt with it. The employee's manager did have a quiet word recently and this was immediately met with "so i'm not allowed to have an opinion?" but the manager left it at asking them to be mindful of the impact such opinions could have on others at such a difficult time for everyone. 

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  • Hi Duncan

    I can't remember seeing another post on Covid denial, but there have been threads about what employers can do about staff revealing that they are not following guidelines outside work that I think you will find relevant if you try the search function. Employers can address behaviour outside work if it affects the workplace and it sounds as if this person presents an increased infection risk to your staff. People can also be asked not to voice inflammatory opinions. No one is saying that they can't have an opinion, but they cannot be allowed to cause cause upset by inflicting it on others. I can well understand that this must be distressing for any staff who have lost friends or family members.
  • Elizabeth's advice, is as usual spot on.

    Just because I don't believe in something doesn't give me an automatic right to go into a place someone else owns - the workplace - and start doing or behaving how I want to behave regardless of the rules set by the company.

    There's lots, and lots of rules i've not liked or agreed with over my working life for lots of reasons (55 years so far), Some I questioned, some I didn't but you have to comply with what you told to do or face the consequences.

    In your position I'd make it very clear to these folk that they can believe what they want - including fairies as far as I'm concerned, but you employ them under your conditions of work and they'll damn well keep to the covid measures you put in place or face disciplinary action. Oh, and the one who you think may not pass their probation, I'd take them aside and tell them they also need to buck their idea up if they want there probation confirmed.

    I'd also make it quite clear that whilst you agree with free speech they are not paid to preach their views at work, which in any case are in direct conflict with the purpose of the company produce, the values of the company and the views of the majority of the population. So shut up or clear off to Speakers Corner or somewhere.

    Never forget - YOU are the employer. Its YOUR workplace. YOU dictate what goes on, much the same as (I assume) you do in your own home.

    Good luck.
  • This is a straight H&S issue; Section 7 of the '74 H&S Act requires employees to comply with the employer's "measures" to ensure safety.

    Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (legislation.gov.uk)

    The purpose of wearing the mask can be to prevent transmission of Covid, or paint-spray, dust, or the effects of last night's garlic-laced dinner, if it is deemed to be for the safety of employees and/or the public then the rule to wear one gets complied with, unless there are genuine reasons for not doing so (for example the employee being an asthmatic or clinical claustrophobia sufferer). Unlike a policy insisting on vaccination, which involves the acceptance of an assault (sticking needles in people being assault), insistence on employees wearing a mask is simply a reasonable instruction compliant with current regulations.

    Breach of H&S being gross misconduct, as is encouraging others to breach the company's H&S "measures", as is disregard of any other statute.

    P

  • Thank you all for your views on this, very insightful and useful advice as always
  • In reply to Peter:

    Hi Duncan

    Another aspect that the desperately risk-averse may bring up might be that this kind of attitude amounts to a 'philosophical belief' and is therefore protected under the 2010 Equality Act. I believe holocaust-denial has in the past been claimed as the same at a Tribunal, but thankfully without success.

    There is of course an abundance of good reasons usually not to tolerate this kind of workplace behaviour. The only sensible reason against this might just possibly be if this person might (a) be sufficiently perceptive to moderate their behaviour to acceptable levels usually when necessary and (b) be on balance worth the organisation putting up with because they're otherwise exceptionally able and talented (many gifted individuals do tend to be a bit unbalanced / quirky / idiosyncratic or whatever).
  • In reply to David:

    ...and discrimination on grounds of belief (even a rational one) remains subject to there being a "genuine occupational requirement". One might profess as a belief that one can operate a steam hammer, lathe, milling machine or FLT without training, guards, eye-protection, operating licence or ear-defenders, which could (with luck and for a time) be true, but you won't do so on my watch. :-)

  • In reply to Peter:

    If this fellow has a BSc in biological sciences and isn't totally deranged / in denial he might possibly be signposted to read and reflect upon the current alarming scientific data such as:
    henrytapper.com/.../
  • In reply to David:

    There is a further aspect to consider regarding those statistics. The current peak includes a far higher number of younger/fitter patients. The reason is simple: The most vulnerable have already been affected by the disease during its first occurrence and either recovered (with at least partial immunity), died, or (with our now improved awareness of how to self-protect) are effectively isolating and strictly social distancing. So the peak we now see is "top-sliced" by at least 10% and probably nearer 20%.

    That is not guesswork; it is not some observation or fantasy of my own; it is the result of a conversation on Tuesday of last week with a cardiac surgeon from a regional teaching hospital which had just had to send home five patients admitted for coronary artery bypass surgery because the ITU beds they would need post-operatively were needed instead for critically ill Covid patients. That's one hospital; one week. How long before those beds are available again? How big will the backlog of patients awaiting life changing surgery be? How many of those patients will suffer heart-failures (with possible fatal consequences) before they are now operated upon?

    I'd be interested to know, as I was one of those sent home.

    P

  • In reply to Peter:

    This is chilling - I've just followed David's link. Very best wishes to you, Peter.
  • In reply to Elizabeth Divver:

    Indeed, Peter!
  • In reply to Peter:

    I agree with Peter that the H&S at Work Act is the way to go to ensure compliance but that's not what concerns me about this thread. Apparently this chap has a BSc in biological sciences, based on the original post that seems incredible to me. It's always healthy to keep recruitment and on-boarding processes under review so I'm wondering if there's been some confusion or possibly even a mistake?