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Healthcare worker challenges refusal to allow her to work from home

admin | October 21, 2021

A healthcare worker in a hospital who sought to work from home because she said her health made her highly vulnerable to Covid-19 has brought a High Court challenge over how the decision refusing to allow her to ‘cocoon’ was taken.

The woman is in her 60s suffers from uncontrolled Type 1 Diabetes, depression and has received treatment for cancer, among other things. She has difficulties wearing a mask because her treatment had resulted in seepage from her septum and her immune system was compromised, she says.

The woman says her conditions supported her case that she should work from home. It is claimed her employment was effectively terminated, and she had to retire.

The HSE dispute this and say the proper forum for her claim was the Workplace Relations Commission and the case is not amenable to public law remedies.

The court heard she was a close contact of a colleague in work who had Covid in the early days of the pandemic and was sent home to self-isolate for 14 days until April 1st, 2020.

Covid-based anxiety The woman, who had worked for 20 years as a public health worker, had attended her GP suffering from Covid-based anxiety, and later she got support from two consultants, her endocrinologist, and her cardiac consultant, for her to work from home.

The court heard the hospital’s occupational health doctor decided she should remain off work until June 5th due to her Covid-based anxiety. The hospital decided she should return because, while she was a high risk person, she was not very high risk or extremely medically vulnerable.

The woman was offered retirement but at “well below” what she would have got if she had continued working, which she wanted to do until she was 67, her counsel John Kennedy SC told the court. After she did not return to work in June her wages were stopped and that ultimately meant she took the retirement offer.

Mr Kennedy said she appealed the decision of the hospital and last November the decision was upheld.

It was their case that the appeal decision was flawed, and fair procedures were not applied because it failed to take into account supporting reports from her two consultants. There was no effort made by the hospital to contact those consultants or to provide alternative evidence from the hospital’s experts.

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They simply refused the appeal on the basis of the original decision based on a test for assessing her “Covid age” and her right to be “cocoon eligible”, counsel said.

Certain information in relation to her condition was not factored in when assessing her Covid age. She was given an age of 79 but to be “cocoon eligible” she had to have an age of 85.

Counsel said had her additional conditions been factored in, she would have been assessed at being over 85.

The case continues before Ms Justice Miriam O’Regan.

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