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Unfair Dismissal and Covid-19- Refusal to Return to Work

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused numerous challenges for both employers and employees like and continues to present numerous issues on an almost daily basis.

In the case of Roisin Coakley v Audrey Cafolla t/a Jesters Hair StudioADJ-00029343 published on 13th December 2021 it was found that the complainant, Ms. Cooke had not been unfairly dismissed by her employer.

The employer in this case ran a hairdressing salon and closed temporarily during the Covid-19 pandemic. When it re-opened the complainant was asked to return to work but she refused due to medical issues with her son. She stated she could not place him in a creche on medical advice and her inability to get a childminder. The Complainant stated she was willing to return to work in August/September but there was no certainty about this. The Complainant had asked for extra leave for two months or so, but this was refused by the Respondent.

It was observed that the reality was that the Complainant was receiving the PUP payment and therefore earning more than by being at work, so there was no financial incentive to return to work. A number of alternatives were explored to provide a way somehow for the Complainant to return to work however the Workplace Relations Commission noted that the “….Complainant made no effort to meet personally with the Respondent to try and iron out a mutually agreeable solution, but instead engaged in written communications”.

It was held that by not returning to work, the Complainant had frustrated or repudiated her contract of employment and her claim for unfair dismissal failed.

Employment Law Learning

Both employees and employers must be mindful of the continued operation of the employment relationship or contract of employment between the parties. Whilst the Workplace Relations Commission noted a level of sympathy for the Complainant’s personal circumstances, this had no bearing on the employment relationship and by refusing to return to work, the employee had in effect brought the employment relationship to an end.

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