In the first case in the UK, a Scottish court has upheld an employer’s dismissal of an employee who refused to wear a face mask
A lorry driver was at a customer’s site, where there was a rule that mask-wearing was mandatory at all times to prevent the spread of Covid-19. He refused to wear it while in the cab of his lorry when asked to comply by a number of staff. He was then banned from the client’s site. As a result of the investigation, where the driver quoted UK Government guidelines at the time that mask-wearing was optional, there was a disciplinary hearing, and the driver was dismissed.
The key to this case was the employer’s Employee Handbook, which stated that employees must maintain good relationships with clients and comply with their Health and Safety and PPE policies. The Tribunal agreed that the driver had not complied with the Employee Handbook, and therefore the dismissal was not unfair.
This ground-breaking case shows the importance of having an up-to-date Employee Handbook and Health and Safety policy that reflects the compliance needs regarding Covid-19 in the workplace, such as mask-wearing and social distancing. Supporting this is the need to effectively communicate these to staff.
The ruling means employers will need to get this right – a failure by an employee to follow reasonable Health and Safety instructions, site rules and third-party requests can give rise to incidents that may be regarded as gross misconduct during the pandemic.