A shop worker with diabetes who was sacked for self-isolating at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic has been awarded a £7,000 payout by a tribunal.
Jackie Reid was dismissed by the Good Health Store in the Isle of Man after following her GP’s advice because her condition made her more vulnerable to the virus.
A tribunal unanimously agreed that she was unfairly dismissed and suffered unlawful deductions from her pay.
The tribunal heard how Mrs Reid had self-isolated at the start of the pandemic as she was Type 1 diabetic after the government advised vulnerable groups to stay at home.
Mrs Reid told her boss, Kirsten Bennett, that she would be required to self-isolate and that she was concerned this may have to be for up to 12 weeks.
After consulting with her GP, Mrs Reid spoke to Ms Bennett over the phone on March 20 that she had been advised to isolate for 14 days, the tribunal heard.
Mrs Reid’s partner is also in a vulnerable category because of his age.
During her evidence, Ms Bennett said Mrs Reid had “abandoned her job without notice, without regard to the other employees or to the business”.
Ms Bennett argued that the complainant could have been sued for breach of contract.
But tribunal chairman Douglas Stewart rejected the notion, saying that had she read the law she would have saved herself “considerable time, worry and expense”.
Mr Stewart and the panel awarded Mrs Reid a total of £7,161.
In his ruling, Mr Stewart said: “Ms Bennett had taken the view that it was she who was the victim.
“In her opinion, and as she testified, she could have sued the complainant for breach of contract because the complainant had abandoned her by walking out with no indication of when she would return.
“That approach is wrong in law. Had Ms Bennett not been so confident of her opinion on the law and had she checked with MIRS, she might have saved herself considerable time, worry and expense.”
He added that the tribunal had “no reason to disbelieve that the complainant had heard by March 17 that, for vulnerable persons, self-isolation for a 12-week term could/might be necessary”.
He said: “For many, that has certainly been entirely accurate.
“That may not have been immediate government guidance by that date but there certainly was confused speculation about who was vulnerable and what were the implications.”
On March 31, Mrs Reid contacted Ms Bennett and offered to return to work immediately and that she would only be limited by the restrictions which impacted others in the community.
She told the tribunal Ms Bennett “reacted negatively and rejected this, saying she had no other choice” but to dismiss her.
After contacting the Manx Industrial Relations Service, she asked Ms Bennet to explain her employment status and was told the company considered her to have resigned.
Mrs Reid was asked why she had wanted to isolate when there were no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the island, but wanted to return when this had risen to 49 cases.
Mrs Reid said she “had acted in accordance with the medical advice from her doctor” and had shown no signs of the virus and felt okay.
She told the court that she hadn’t intended to go to a tribunal until she was advised to by her friends and family.
She said the experience had left her “scared to go back out to look for work”.
She added: “I want this to go public as I don’t want this to happen to someone else. If someone else is in the position I was, then fight it.”
However, Ms Bennett, who owns the shop, intends to appeal against the decision.
Speaking after the ruling, she said: “We are disappointed with the outcome and intend to appeal against the decision. It has been a very difficult time for everybody, most people have someone to protect, if not themselves.
“We are grateful to all the essential workers who did go to work in the hospital, schools and the shops ensuring the food supply.
“Their commitment has allowed the island to achieve its current standing.”
The tribunal awarded Mrs Reid a basic award of £528, losses up the hearing of £4,448, loss of statutory rights of £345, unlawful deductions from pay of £1,584 and unlawful deductions of £256 – bringing a total of £7,161.