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Italian IT employee wins unfair dismissal claim after staying in Italy during pandemic

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In the case of Montanaro v Lansafe an employment tribunal held that an employee who was on annual leave in Italy when lockdown was announced was automatically unfairly dismissed when his employer purported to dismiss him for failing to follow company procedures and taking unauthorised holiday.

Mr Montanaro was employed by Lansafe and provided services to their client. Montanaro believed he had permission to take holiday for his sister’s wedding in Italy. However, Italy went into lockdown and UK government guidance stipulated 14 days’ isolation on return from Italy. Montanaro was told to keep his mobile and laptop on and wait for instructions. Lansafe then sent a letter to Montanaro in London (despite knowing he was in Italy) advising that he had been dismissed for failing to follow company procedures and taking unauthorised leave. Montanaro successfully claimed automatic unfair dismissal.

The tribunal held that there were circumstances of danger, given the declaration of a pandemic and the risk of catching a contagious virus which could lead to serious illness and death, and that Montanaro reasonably believed the danger was serious and imminent. He had taken appropriate steps to protect himself and others. He had asked Lansafe for advice, instructions and assistance with documentation had Lansafe initially wanted him to fly to London. He had forwarded appropriate information about the situation in Italy. He was ready to receive communication and instructions for work on his mobile and laptop.

The Tribunal agreed that in this case the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic presented circumstances of danger, with a risk of serious illness or death.

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