A UK bulk liquid lorry driver was recently dismissed from his employment on account of his refusal to wear a face mask on a client site. He is believed to be the first worker in the UK to be fired for refusing to wear a mask.
The driver-Deimantas Kubilius- had been reported to his employer after a visit to a client site. The client had introduced measures in the workplace to combat the spread of covid-19; one of these measures was that all workers on, and visitors to, a particular site wear a face mask.
The client wrote to the man’s employer and said he was in breach of the health and safety rules of the client and requested his name in order to place his name on a ‘banned driver list’.
When faced with a disciplinary action the driver was unrepentant and pointed out that it was not a legal requirement to wear a mask and, in any case, he never left the cab of his truck.
The outcome of the disciplinary hearing was a decision to terminate the driver’s employment. He brought a claim to the employment tribunal in the UK which deals with such claims and disputes.
Trust and confidence
The employer position was that he was in breach of the employer’s policies and procedures by reason of his failure to follow reasonable direction concerning health and safety. His employer was also influenced by his lack of remorse and decided that trust and confidence in the driver had been lost as a consequence.
This loss of trust and confidence led the employer to believe that there was a risk in the future of the driver failing to follow reasonable directions and causing reputational damage for the employer with other clients. The driver was summarily dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct in June 2020.
The position of the employment tribunal in the UK when it comes to the grounds for dismissal is similar to that of the WRC and Labour Court in Ireland-that is, it will not substitute its judgment for that of the employer. Instead, it will decide if the decision of the employer falls within a ‘range of reasonable decisions’ in the circumstances.
If it does, the tribunal will not overturn the decision of the employer.
The employment tribunal in the UK made a number of findings in this case including:
- The driver’s refusal to wear a mask constituted misconduct
- The driver’s employer afforded him a fair disciplinary procedure and gave him the opportunity to appeal the decision
- The employer had acted reasonably
- The insistence of the driver that he had done nothing wrong had naturally led to a loss of trust and confidence by the employer about future conduct in similar circumstances
The driver lost his claim for unfair dismissal under the Employment Rights Act 1996, an analogous act to Ireland’s Unfair Dismissals Act 1977.
This case is Kubilius -v- Kent Food (Case Number: 3201960/2020 V)