A CALL centre worker was awarded £15,000 in damages after her boss told her to get back to work during the pandemic.
Administrator Bridget Regnante, 51, said she was “terrified” to go into her West Sussex office and risk getting Covid as her husband, 66, recovered from cancer treatment.
Bridget Regnante lived in fear of bringing Covid into her home during the pandemicCredit: Cavendish
Her husband was recovering from cancer treatment and at high risk of becoming ‘seriously ill’ if infectedCredit: Cavendish
The call centre worker was forced to quit her jobCredit: Cavendish
But her team leader Lawrence King suggested she was ”exaggerating” her situation as she made regular shopping trips to Tesco to buy groceries for herself and husband of eight years, Giuseppe.
He also told her to move into a hotel so she could be in the office.
Eventually Mr King said if Mrs Regnante wanted to WFH he would place her on unpaid leave instead.
He told her: ”You will need to come to work effective from after your lunch break today recognising social distancing.
”If you decide that you do not want to go ahead with this, then you will be on unpaid leave until you feel safe to return to work. As you know, the country is on a standstill and as key workers, we all need to work together to get through this.”
Mrs Regnante, of Worthing, subsequently quit her job at Essex Care Limited which provides care and equipment to people in their homes.
She later sued for constructive and unfair dismissal saying she was left ”hurt” by Mr King’s treatment.
At a tribunal she won £15,760.32 including £5,500 compensation for detriments she suffered on health and safety grounds after her husband represented her during the online hearing.
The hearing was told Italian-born Mr Regnante who runs a construction business had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in July 2018.
He subsequently underwent extensive chemotherapy and operations to remove his spleen and stomach.
When lockdown began in March 2020, Mrs Regnante was so worried her husband was at risk of the virus she would wash all their groceries before taking a shower and the couple slept in separate rooms.
She barely left their property and would only make the trips to her local Tesco during quiet periods as there was a three week waiting list for online deliveries.
Mrs Regnante was initially allowed to work from home but her company laptop was not always working and phone calls were not routinely diverted to her at home.
By April 2020 just weeks after the lockdown began Mr King was said to have grown ”impatient” with her, claiming she was only capable of doing 50 percent of her work from home.
‘NEED TO PROTECT GIUSEPPE’
On a Sunday Mrs Regnante was called in to carry out an evening shift for the call centre at the firm’s Worthing office to discover she was covering for a colleague who had Covid symptoms and whose son was in hospital with the virus.
On arrival back home she emailed Mr King saying she was taken aback by the request and only said yes as she was “caught on the hop”.
”I don’t know what you were thinking asking me to come to the office with this whole situation going on.
“I am now terrified that I will bring/already have brought it into the house. I cannot come to the office again to do call centre shifts. I need to protect Giuseppe.”
But Mr King retorted that she could “easily” practice social distancing and told her he was concerned she was going to Tesco.
He later sent her a spreadsheet to complete so he could see what she was doing all day and challenged nine answers Mrs Regnante gave when asked to complete a WFH questionnaire.
When Mrs Regnante was advised by her IT colleagues to make a two hour round trip to Essex to get her officer latop fixed, Mr King questioned why her husband drove her.
The hearing was told the firm had installed hand sanitiser units around the office and provided the 15 staff who worked there with masks, antibacterial wipes, tissues and hand cream and staggered start times in a bid to make the area ”Covid safe.”
But Mrs Regnante said there was little evidence of any precautions when she came in for her evening shift.
She sent an email to her manager outlining the concern she felt over Giuseppe being at “very high risk” of becoming seriously ill if infected.
‘SHOULD HAVE STAYED AT HOME’
In his ruling, Employment Judge Eoin Fowell criticised Mr King for being ”blunt, uncompromising, hostile and unsympathetic” in his emails to Mrs Regnante.
He said: ”The thrust of the government guidance was that the population in general, and Mrs Regnante in particular, should have stayed at home unless absolutely necessary.
“The emphasis placed by the company on getting her back into the office seems out of all proportion to the benefit to be gained by the company.
”It is particularly surprising that the company would go to the extreme of suggesting that she go to live in a hotel, which would probably cost more than her wages just so she can be back in the office from time to time.
”Fundamentally, she was an administrator, working in a support role, with a clinically extremely vulnerable husband, who was able to do most of her work from home.
”The risk to Mr Regnante, if he caught Covid, was very serious. Even a 1 percent chance of bringing Covid into the house would quite reasonably be viewed as an unacceptable risk.
“There was no real recognition anywhere that Mrs Regnante genuinely believed she was putting her husband’s life at risk if she came into the office. The difficulties of working from home seem to have been exaggerated and escalated unnecessarily.”
Bridget Regnante quit her job in disgust after her boss told her to get back to her desk during the Covid-19 pandemicCredit: Cavendish
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