HR Advice - dismissal during a pandemic

Unfair Dismissal – How One Employer Got It Very Wrong

A shop worker from the Isle of Man, who was self-isolating to protect herself from coronavirus, recently made a successful claim against her former employer for unfair dismissal.

Jackie Reid, who worked at the Good Health Store on the Isle of Man, was advised by her doctor to self-isolate at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, she was subsequently dismissed from her job for breaching her contract but was awarded over £7000 in compensation at a tribunal that ruled her sacking as unfair.

With so many people being told to self-isolate and as we have been advised to work from home wherever possible, letting staff go during the pandemic is even more difficult than usual. Read on to find out what happened to one employer who got it very wrong.

Unfair Dismissal In A Pandemic

As Ms Reid has Type I Diabetes, she is more vulnerable to coronavirus which is why, after consulting with her doctor in March, Ms Reid decided to self-isolate. She telephoned her employer, Kirsten Bennet, to let her know and told her she was worried her self-isolation might last for up to 12 weeks.

On 31st March, Ms Reid phoned her employer again to offer to return to work immediately but was met with hostility and was dismissed. According to Ms Reid, her former boss ‘reacted negatively and rejected’ her offer to return, ‘saying she had no other choice’ but to let her go.

At the tribunal, Ms Bennet defended herself saying she believed Ms Reid had ‘abandoned her job without notice, without regard to the other employees or to the business’. She also went on to say that she could have sued Ms Reid for breach of contract.

After hearing both sides of the story, the tribunal’s chairman, Douglas Steward, rejected Ms Bennetts excuses, advising that if she had taken the time to consult the law she would have saved ‘considerable time, worry and expense.’ As a result, Ms Reid was awarded £7,161 in compensation.

How To Handle Dismissing Staff During A Pandemic

Dismissing an employee can be difficult at the best of times but when you add all the hurdles coronavirus has thrown our way recently, it’s even more of a minefield than usual. In the current climate, employers need to show more leniency towards their staff who feel vulnerable because of the pandemic and need to tread carefully if they decide to let someone go.

For a dismissal to be fair, employers need to have a valid reason for why they are letting that member of staff go and show they have acted with responsibility and tolerance in all circumstances. However, employers now also need to go one step further to show they have carefully considered those who feel particularly affected by the current pandemic.

In this instance, Ms Bennet should have shown more understanding to Ms Reid’s circumstances and sought professional HR advice as this would have warned her of the potential dangers. A HR expert would have advised Ms Bennet to talk to her employee about what was happening in order to come to a mutual agreement about how to handle the situation. There are always options available to businesses but it is important to understand these in order to make informed decisions.

Dismissing staff during the coronavirus pandemic is a minefield so to avoid time-consuming and costly mistakes, seek professional advice from a reputable HR company like Streetwise HR. To chat with one of our HR gurus about your circumstances, please don’t hesitate to get in touch today on 0800 682 7488.

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