Joanne Stronach Head of Employment and HR reports on this recent case.
A veterinary assistant was unfairly dismissed after she challenged her employer’s view that the coronavirus pandemic had been ‘hyped up’.
The case involved Charlotte Rendina who worked at Royston Veterinary Centre from January to March 2020. She was dismissed by her employer, Dr White, due to her ‘poor performance’.
However, the Employment Tribunal heard that the timing coincided with Rendida raising safety concerns after White had refused to create a Covid-secure workplace.
On 16 March 2020, the government advised the public to avoid non-essential travel and contact.
Rendida asked the practice manager, Mrs Young, if she would wear a mask as she was concerned about the virus, particularly as she was asthmatic.
Young told Rendida that she should speak to White. White held a meeting in which he told his staff that the virus was no more than a cold or flu and had been over-hyped by the media.
He said there was no need for hand sanitiser, wipes, signs or notices, but that Rendida could wear a mask if she wished.
Rendida became concerned about the lack of precautions and raised the issue with Young. A few days later she attended a British Veterinary Association webinar on Covid which recommended working from home if possible and minimising contact with colleagues.
She passed the information on to White and Young and asked them to implement the recommendations.
When the first lockdown was announced, White sent messages to all the staff saying that the practice would open as normal.
Rendida was uncomfortable with the development and sought to consult the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).
The RCVS said that she may be in breach of the Veterinary Code of Practice if she carried out nonessential routine procedures.
White then held another meeting with his staff which saw him reiterate his belief that the severity of the virus had been ‘hyped up’.
He later dismissed Rendida, saying that they had reached a ‘level of discord that was not amenable’.
Rendida brought a claim of unfair dismissal and the tribunal ruled in her favour.
Judge Warren said that Rendida had been dismissed because White had been irritated that she had raised concerns about the safety of herself, her colleagues and visitors to the practice.
Compensation is yet to be determined and Judge Warren hoped a remedy hearing would not be necessary as ‘the schedule of loss indicates that the quantum of Ms Rendina’s claim is very modest indeed.’
For more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law please contact Joanne on 01228 516666.