A close shave with dismissal - breaching COVID guidelines
Published 18 August 2021
Vic was proud of his hipster beard and never in his wildest dreams could he ever have imagined when it got wet it would leave him fighting to save his job.
He was accused of breaching Covid health and safety rules for entering the workplace before putting on his face mask.
It was raining heavily outside and Vic attempted to dry his beard before putting on his mask
Added to this his alleged failure to adhere to social distancing guidelines at the hotel where he worked, led to him being invited to a disciplinary hearing.
Vic, who had eight year’ service, was warned the breaches of health and safety could lead to dismissal.
What made matters worse, is that Vic had previously emailed head office to complain about colleagues not following the guidelines.
Nothing was done about it, which left Vic justifiably feeling he was being singled out and targeted for daring to report his concerns.
Vic submitted a formal grievance alleging he was being treated unfairly.
His employer rejected the grievance without ever holding a grievance hearing.
Vic complained, but hotel management insisted it had acted appropriately.
Despondent Vic was subsequently given a date for the disciplinary hearing.
Vic contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for help.
When Vic spoke to our representative he explained CCTV was the main evidence against him.
During the disciplinary investigation he was shown the footage at an investigation meeting.
Our representative arranged with Vic’s employer for both of them to view the CCTV together prior to the disciplinary hearing.
The first footage showed him standing at the staff entrance doorway with one foot in the building and the other outside. No one else was around and he was seen frantically wiping his beard with his hands. After a while he puts on his mask and walks inside.
The next footage was a compilation of clips of Vic at work, standing or walking within 2m of colleagues. Those clips showed his colleagues doing exactly the same as him.
Our representative discussed the footage with Vic. He said he had seen other employees enter the building and actually inside the hotel not wearing masks, but they had not been disciplined.
It led our representative to request additional footage outside of that provided. The company refused to allow it to be viewed citing ‘data protection reasons’.
At the disciplinary hearing our representative asserted Vic can be considered a whistle-blower.
It was maintained he was being subjected to unfavourable treatment for raising legitimate health and safety concerns in staff not adhering to Covid guidelines.
Details of his subsequent unfair treatment was presented, which included: the unfair disciplinary action being taken against him; refusal to hear his grievance in accordance with the ACAS Code and refusal to allow access to evidence that would show his treatment was not consistent with others not wearing masks in the workplace.
In response to the allegations, it was pointed out paper masks are less effective if wet, so in drying his beard first Vic was acting to protect others.
The fact he was stood in the doorway with one foot inside and one out, was highlighted to show his desperate attempt to adhere to the guidelines while drying his beard.
The hearing was told it was clear evidence any perceived breach of the rules was not deliberate or intentional.
Our representative used the footage from inside the building to point out others did not adhere to 2m social distancing guidelines in place at the time, but had not been treated the same as Vic.
It was also pointed out that at the time the Government had lowered the distance to 1m, because it was recognised 2m was not always possible.
The hearing was told Vic apologised for his actions and had taken appropriate learning from what occurred, which should provide an assurance it would not happen again.
To her credit that disciplinary hearing chair did express her surprise that Vic’s health and safety concerns were never followed up, and that the case had reached the stage it had. Vic was cleared of any wrongdoing.