The Employment Relations Authority has ordered an employer to pay $30,000 after upholding a personal grievance claim that the dismissal of one of their employees was unjustified. The employee worked for the employer for nearly 20 years prior to her dismissal.

The Authority had to determine whether the actions of the employer were fair and reasonable in all the circumstances. The Authority decided that the dismissal was unjustified as the employee was given no chance to comment on the final dismissal decision.

As well as this, the employment agreement contained a provision that required a verbal or written warning to be given to the employee prior to her dismissal. The employee was never warned that she may be dismissed due to her failure to perform her role, and this was therefore a breach of the required standard.

At the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic, the employee received a medical certificate stating that she had an underlying health condition that put her at risk of suffering serious complications from the virus if she were to contract it. She was also exempt from receiving the vaccine.

After the lockdown ended, the employee’s work resumed but was subject to significant restrictions, including a requirement to wear a mask. Wearing a mask exacerbated the employee’s medical condition, and she subsequently obtained a mask exemption.

After a few months of the employee wearing a face shield instead of a mask, the employer implemented a new policy stating that face shields were no longer permitted as an alternative to masks.

After several discussions with her supervisor the employee did not return to work as there was no alternative option provided to her. She was paid for the time she did not work.

The employee was invited to a meeting to discuss the plan moving forward. During the meeting the employer reinforced that the employee could not continue to work without wearing a mask.

It was also stated that whilst there was a mask exemption protocol in place, this was not available to unvaccinated staff members.

The employee then received a letter inviting her to a second meeting. This letter mentioned that disciplinary action may be on the table because of the employee’s refusal to wear a mask and encouraged her to bring a support person to the meeting.

This meeting ended with the employee stating that she would seek advice from a medical professional and would present this advice at a follow up meeting.

At the follow up meeting the employee presented medical evidence that she was unable to wear a mask. The employer did not deem this evidence to be conclusive, as it stated that the employee “may” have a condition that prevents her from wearing a mask.

The employee was sent a letter shortly after the meeting stating that she was being dismissed, as her inability to wear a mask prevented her from performing in her role.

As mentioned above, the Authority decided that the dismissal was unjustified as the employee was given no chance to comment on the final dismissal decision, and the employer was ordered to pay $30,000 as compensation.

It is crucial to always follow the correct process when disciplining or dismissing an employee. The failure to do so can lead to costly consequences. If there is confusion around the dismissal process, it pays to seek advice from a professional with experience in the area.

Leading law firms committed to helping clients cost-effectively will have a range of fixed-price Initial Consultations to suit most people’s needs in quickly learning what their options are.  At Rainey Collins we have an experienced team who can answer your questions and put you on the right track.