Where can precautions against COVID-19 constitute gross misconduct?
This case demonstrated how tribunals deal with claims of unfair dismissal where someone has been dismissed for attempting to prevent the spread of COVID-19.Read more
The claimant, Mr Chell, suffered a perforated eardrum, hearing loss and tinnitus whilst working at a site controlled by the respondent, Tarmac, because the respondent’s (Mr Heath) had placed two pallet targets on a bench adjacent to the claimant’s ear and hit them with a hammer causing a “loud explosion”.
Mr Heath’s employment was terminated as a result of the incident.
The claimant was employed by a third party, Roltec, and the incident occurred following what was described as a period of tension involving Tarmac staff not welcoming Roltec staff on site, which was highlighted to management by the claimant.
The claimant alleged that the respondent was vicariously liable for the actions of their employee as well as in breach of their direct duty of care towards him for failing to prevent a foreseeable risk of injury.
The parties accepted that whilst the hammer was work equipment, the pellet targets had not been supplied by Tarmac, but had been brought on to site from outside.
The claimant lost his case in the first instance and on appeal, both in respect of vicarious liability and breach of duty. He appealed to the Court of Appeal claiming that the lower courts had misapplied the law to the facts.
The court decided that the employer was not vicariously liable for the actions of Mr Heath and his actions were not “done in the course of employment”.
He had not been authorised to do what he did, and neither were his actions an unlawful mode of doing an authorised act. Mr Heath’s actions did not advance the purposes of the respondent, and no part of Mr Heath’s work required him to hit pellet targets.
Mr Heath’s actions were not deemed to be so closely connected to what he was authorised to undertake such as to make it “fair, just and reasonable” to impose liability, as:
As highlighted by this case, it is vital that employers take steps to prevent any backlash from employee’s seemingly innocent antics.
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An Employment Tribunal published its judgement in the case of X v Y . The case offers an insight into how the COVID-19 pandemic interacts with employment law.Read more
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