A Covid compliance officer with a leading food manufacturing company had her employment terminated over her failure to fully inform her employers about the extent of positive tests for Covid-19 among her and her boyfriend’s families.
The Workplace Relations Commission ruled the unnamed food company was entitled to end the probationary period of the worker.
The woman had taken a case against the company under the Industrial Relations Act after she was dismissed just over three months after she took up employment on October 27, 2020.
The WRC heard the claimant’s employment had gone well until December 17, 2020, when her boyfriend was confirmed as testing positive for Covid-19 after becoming unwell three days earlier.
The woman had informed her employer about the situation on December 16 but said she had not seen her boyfriend since the 12th so she did not regard herself as a “close contact”. She tested positive herself on December 18, which developed into a serious illness, including tonsillitis, which had her certified unfit to work until February 2021.
However, she was informed by the company in a phone call on February 5, 2021, that her probationary period was being terminated and she would not be coming back to work.
The woman claimed she was told she had “not handled things well re Covid”. She said a written statement provided by the company outlining the reasons for its decision was “vague and ambiguous".
Representatives of the company told the WRC they were perfectly entitled under labour legislation to terminate employment during a probationary period and the decision was reasonable in the circumstances.
They pointed out the reputation as a Covid-compliant food processing company was critical to their business during the pandemic.
The company said a very high standard of professional and personal Covid compliance was expected from the claimant and she had not shown the required “abundance of caution". The woman’s supervisor said it became clear that the domestic Covid situation of the families of the woman and her boyfriend were a lot more complicated than they had initially been told and many close relations had tested positive on December 12, 2020.
The company claimed the information was very slow in being passed on to it.
It said the entire series of events surrounding the weekend of December 12, 2020, had undermined its confidence in the worker, who had a vital role in the company.
The WRC adjudicator, Michael McEntee, ruled the claimant did not have the required service to avail of the Unfair Dismissals Act but added a review of the current legal position was warranted.
Mr McEntee acknowledged that a Covid outbreak at the plant would have been very serious for the business and all its workers.
He also recognised it was an exceptional time but said a major well-known food brand required an extraordinarily high standard of Covid compliance.
The WRC ruled the contract of employment allowed the company to terminate the woman’s employment at its discretion during the probationary period.
It also stressed there was no suggestion of any misconduct on the employee’s part but there was an issue of poor professional performance where the confidence of the company with the worker was “no longer there”.