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Admin worker wins unfair dismissal case after resigning for fear of catching covid in the office and passing it to her cancer suffering husband

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In the case of Mrs Regnante v Essex Cares Limited, Bridget Regnante worked for Essex Care Limited who work on behalf of Local Authorities providing care and equipment to people in their homes. It is a large company with over a thousand staff. Mrs Regnante was based in their Worthing office and she was there for about five years until her resignation in April 2020. She enjoyed her role and it was about five minutes’ walk from home.

Her husband was unfortunately diagnosed with stomach cancer in July 2018. He had to have extensive chemotherapy. A major operation followed in January 2019 in which his stomach and spleen had to be removed, after which he had further extensive chemotherapy. Happily, he recovered over the following few months. Those events were traumatic for Mrs Regnante, however. They left a lasting legacy of anxiety, which was heightened by the outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020.

At that point he received a letter from the NHS advising him that he was clinically extremely vulnerable and to do all he could to avoid infection, so she did not want to go into the office and risk bringing the infection home. For the first few weeks of lockdown, she was allowed to work from home but during April 2020 the company insisted that she return to the office or take 12 weeks’ unpaid leave. She resigned in response.

Employment Judge Eoin Fowell ruled she was effectively unfairly sacked as it said her bosses had breached her contract by giving her the ultimatum and did not apply ‘common sense’ to coronavirus guidance. Judge Fowell said: “The company appears to us more concerned with fairness arguments, which essentially boil down to asking, ‘Why should she get away with being at home?’

“Their own guidance should have been given a common sense interpretation in line with the general position of the country. They also seem to have adopted a strict interpretation of it, and taken the view that unless she could do absolutely all her work from home, she needed to be in the office. That does not seem to be justified.”

At the employment tribunal, held remotely, Mrs Regnante won her claims of unfair dismissal and suffering a detriment at work on health and safety grounds. She is now in line for compensation and a remedy hearing is set to take place on May 9.

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