The Employment Relations Authority has upheld an employee’s personal grievance claim of unjustified dismissal after their employer dismissed them for following isolation rules.

The employee’s partner tested positive for COVID-19 in March 2022. At that time household contacts were required by law to isolate for 10 days. The employee sent a message to notify his boss that he would need to isolate.

The employer responded by telling the employee it was legal for him to come to work, so long as he wore a mask. The employee disagreed and the exchange ended.

The employer emailed the employee a few days later about his final pay, indicating that the employee had been dismissed.

The following day the employer emailed the employee again to ask whether the employee had tested positive, given it was the last day of isolation. The employer indicated that the employee should come to work.

On that day the employee tested positive for COVID-19. The employer responded by saying that the employee’s position had been made redundant, and he was dismissed immediately.

The employee brought a personal grievance claim of unjustified dismissal to the Tribunal. The Tribunal had to determine whether the employer had acted as a fair and reasonable employer could have in the circumstances.

The Tribunal began by looking at the definition of redundancy. To dismiss someone because their position has been made redundant means that their position is no longer required for the operation of the business. The position, not the person, is redundant.

However, evidence showed that the employer had advertised the same position after dismissing the employee.

The Tribunal decided that redundancy was not the real reason for dismissal, but that the employer had actually dismissed the employee because they did not agree with the COVID-19 isolation rules.

Further, the employer had changed their reason for dismissing the employee multiple times, starting with the employee “abandoning” his employment, and later changing that reason to his position being made redundant. The Tribunal decided that this is clearly not what a reasonable employer could have done in the circumstances.

The employer had also failed to follow a fair process when dismissing the employee. The employer had not let the employee work out his notice period, and although they had set up a meeting to discuss issues with the employee, they had done so during the employee’s isolation period. He therefore could not attend.

The employer also failed to provide the employee with sufficient information, and failed to give him an opportunity to have his input properly considered.

The Tribunal decided that this was clearly a case of unjustified dismissal, and ordered the employee to pay $1,800 in lost wages, $1,400 for his notice period, and $15,000 in compensation for hurt, humiliation and loss.

It is important to be aware of your obligations when dismissing an employee. If you are confused about these obligations, it pays to seek advice from a professional with experience in the area.


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Alan Knowsley and Hunter Flanagan-Connors