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Sacked for Self-Isolating - A Cautionary Tale

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BY Scott O'Connor
Employment Law & HR

The Employment Tribunal has recently delivered its judgment in Reid v Good Health Store Ltd, an unfair dismissal claim from an employee who was dismissed as she was required to shield. The Claimant, Jackie Reid, who has Type 1 Diabetes, was advised to shield by her GP because her diabetes meant that she was comparatively more vulnerable to coronavirus than the average person. On 17th March Mrs Reid informed her employer of the recommendation to self-isolate for 14 days. On 31st March, Mrs Reid called in to inform her employer that she would be able to return immediately and that she would not be subject to any further restrictions.

Ms Bennett, owner of Good Health Store, reacted negatively to Mrs Reid’s offer of returning and said that she had no other choice but to dismiss her. The Tribunal heard from Ms Bennett that Mrs Reid “abandoned her job without notice, without regard to other employees or the business.” Ms Bennett also asserted that she could claim for breach of contract as Mrs Reid had effectively resigned.

This was wholly rejected by the Employment Tribunal and Ms Bennett was informed that if she had read the law and obtained the necessary advice, she would have saved herself considerable worry and expense. The Tribunal found in favour of the Claimant and awarded her damages of £7,161. Good Health Store have intimated their intention to appeal the decision.

Whilst this is only a first instance decision and is therefore not binding on subsequent tribunals, it should act as a cautionary tale to employers who have considered disciplinary action or dismissal as a result of an employee having to self-isolate. These are unprecedented times and with further restrictions being imposed, there may be more instances of employees having to self-isolate. In these circumstances, employers are encouraged to be compassionate and to work with the employee. Employers should consider alternative working arrangements while self-isolating, can they work from home or undertake alternative duties? If not, the employer may be well advised to obtain a medical opinion on what reasonably can be expected from the employee while the risk of coronavirus remains.

The UK Government have announced that those who can work from home should continue to do so.  As a result, LAW have developed a brand-new training module on ‘Managing Employees Working from Home.’  This course will allow you to effectively manage staff who are working remotely and to ensure that you are equipped to deal with any issues.

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