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Woman terrified of catching Covid-19 at work and giving it to her husband with cancer wins unfair dismissal case

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An admin worker has won her unfair dismissal case after bosses demanded she return to the office at the start of the pandemic despite isolating because her husband had cancer. Bridget Regnante said she was ‘terrified’ of catching coronavirus and giving it to her ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ husband and the pair had even divided their house in two.

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An employment tribunal heard she could do the ‘majority’ of her job working from home but bosses insisted she had to go in for ‘fairness and equality’ as they felt she was ‘exaggerating’ the problem with her husband. After being given an ultimatum of either returning or taking unpaid leave, Mrs Regnante resigned and an employment tribunal has now ruled she was unfairly forced out as her bosses did not apply ‘common sense’ to Covid guidance.

The tribunal heard Mrs Regnante worked as an administrator for Essex Care Limited which provided care and equipment to people in their homes. Even though the company was providing a front line service, Mrs Regnante’s role in administration could largely be done from home, the employment tribunal heard.

When the pandemic first hit in March 2020, Mrs Regnante was ‘alarmed’ by the risk to her husband Guiseppe Regnante who was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2018. As Mr Regnante had had his stomach and spleen removed, he had a weakened immune system, the tribunal heard.

During the first covid outbreak, Mrs Regnante had ‘heightened anxiety’ and so lived in a separate part of her home to her husband. Mr Regnante did not leave home at all and Mrs Regnante went out as little as possible, getting groceries from a Tesco nearby and washing everything and showering after each trip.

Mrs Regnante’s bosses initially allowed her to work from home and there was ‘plenty’ of work she could usefully do, the tribunal heard. She said she could do 85 per cent of her usual role from home and the tribunal ruled she could do the ‘vast majority’ of tasks.

In April 2020, Mrs Regnante was called in to do an evening shift for the call centre at the office where she was based in Worthing, West Sussex. After the shift she sent her boss Lawrence King an email saying she was taken aback by the request.

She said: “I arrived in at the office at 6pm, to find that I was covering for Helen, who is now in self-isolation due to constant coughing on Saturday and that her son is in the Covid-19 Ward at Worthing Hospital I don’t know what you were thinking asking me to come to the office with this whole situation going on.

“I am now terrified that I will bring/already have brought it into the house. I cannot come to the office again to do Call Centre shifts. I need to protect Giuseppe.”

Mrs Regnante was then told she could not keep working at home because Mr King was concerned about ‘equality and fairness’ across the company as other administrative workers were required to go in. The tribunal heard Mr King said it was ‘concerning’ Mrs Regnante drove with her husband to Brentwood, Essex, to fix a problem with her internet that was affecting her ability to work.

He said: “When I asked who will be taking her, she confirmed that her husband, who is shielding, will be driving her to Essex. This is very concerning considering they should not be leaving their home.” The tribunal said: “Mr King’s comments appear to suggest he felt she was exaggerating the problem with her husband and so there was no good reason why she could not return to the office.”

Mr King then gave Mrs Regnante an ‘ultimatum’ of either going into the office to work, taking 12 weeks of unpaid leave or living in a hotel while going in. Mrs Regnante ‘reluctantly’ resigned in order to protect her husband from ‘any risks that attending the office would entail.’

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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