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29 Sept 2022

Limerick-based IT engineer loses discrimination case over refusal to wear face mask at work

Limerick-based IT engineer loses discrimination case over refusal to wear face mask at work

In dismissing the case, the WRC Adjudicating Officer stated that, in his view, the complainant did not establish a prima facie case of discrimination.

THE Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has rejected claims that an IT Support Engineer was discriminated against over his refusal to wear a face mask at work in order to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

The complainant initiated proceedings against his employer – an IT support company - after being told he could not work “on site” at a facility in Limerick.

While the complainant was allowed to work remotely, on a limited basis, during the initial stages of Covid-19, he was required to work on site at times given the nature of the work.

A summary of the complaint, states that in July 2020 a Mandatory Face Covering Policy was implemented by the medical company and that this was relayed to the complainant and his employer.

“Straight away the complainant informed the respondent that he had great difficulty in wearing a face covering and no way could he do so nine hours a day. He told the respondent he would not be physically able to it,” states the report.

While the support engineer was initially allowed to wear a visor, his employer was informed on October 27, 2020 that all personnel attending the pharmaceutical plant would have to wear face masks when on site due to the increased presence of Covid-19 at that time.

When he contested this – citing health reasons – he was informed there were no exceptions and that the company had mandated that visors were not to be used.

After the company confirmed there would be no exceptions, the complainant reiterated that he could not wear a face mask and indicated he would not be adhering to the requirement to do so.

The complainant was subsequently placed on sick leave after a company doctor determined he was "medically fit for unrestricted work duties" and that there were “no medical contra-indication to the wearing of a face mask."

Over the following months, a number of potential solutions were explored including working at another client company or working remotely full-time but none were deemed possible.

In dismissing the case, the WRC Adjudicating Officer stated that, in his view, the complainant did not establish a prima facie case of discrimination.

“He has not shown that the respondent acted in a discriminatory manner towards him, has named no comparators who were treated more favourably than him, that his exclusion from the customer site was not decided upon by the respondent but by the needs of the customer being a pharmaceutical plant to try prevent the spread of Covid,” he said.

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