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An office-based employee had no option but to resign from her job during the first Covid-19 lockdown after her employer rejected her plea to work remotely from home.

That is according to Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudication Officer, Kevin Baneham who has ordered the employer to pay the operations coordinator €3,712 compensation for her unfair dismissal on the 12 th of May 2020.

The employee stated that she and two other coordinators had to be allowed to undertake their work from home. The employer rejected the work from home proposal, telling the hearing that it was so busy at this time, so they all needed to be there.

In an email to her employer, the employee stated that her employer’s refusal to accept the remote working proposal “has increased the infection risk with Covid-19 for all three operations coordinators”. She stated: “In the event one of us gets sick I will be putting at risk my husband who is an asthmatic patient.

In his ruling, Baneham found that the employee had “no real option but to resign” after her employer failed to take reasonably practicable steps to mitigate the risk posed by Covid-19 in the workplace.

Baneham found that the employer failed to implement the proposals made by three employees that would have eliminated the risk of transmission of Covid-19 in the workplace. The employer rejected a proposal from the three that two could work remotely at any one time in response to the risk posed by Covid-19.

In his findings, Baneham found that the requirement by the employer that the operations coordinator attend the workplace without adequate consideration of the elimination of risk posed by Covid 19 “amounts to a repudiation of contract”. He stated: “This arises as providing a safe place of work is a fundamental term of the contract of employment.” He also found that the employer did not comply with the statutory framework by first seeking to eliminate risk, “causing the worker to attend work in greater danger…in this case, the risk could have been readily eliminated or reduced through ‘reasonably practicable steps, as suggested by the complainant.”

Baneham stated that the employee “articulated a clear grievance and suggested how the work could be done in the safest way possible. This was not adequately considered by the respondent, leaving her with no real option but to resign.”

The award made by Baneham would have been higher but for the worker concerned securing alternative employment within five weeks at a higher pay rate.

Baneham stated: “As an infectious disease, Covid-19 constitutes a biological hazard. In this context and at the centre of this case are the duties of both employer and employee arising from the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act and the underpinning health and safety principles…it was striking that the employer did not trial the “eminently sensible” suggestion by the three office-based operations coordinators that only one worker attend the office and the others work remotely at any one time.”

The remainder of 2021 is going to see a lot more of such Covid-19 cases going through the WRC.

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