Insurer vindicated after firing covid denier
A Suncorp employee who refused to be vaccinated against Covid-19 because “there is no evidence it exists” has lost her unfair dismissal compensation claim after the insurer terminated her employment.
The member of staff, who had worked with the insurer for more than a decade, was dismissed for failing to comply with the insurer’s Covid-19 safety standard.
She took her case to the Fair Work Commission, which in a recent ruling sided with Suncorp.
The woman, who insuranceNEWS.com.au has decided not to name, argued that Suncorp could not prove the covid virus exists and, as a result, enforcement of the standard was “harsh, unjust, unreasonable and unlawful”.
The standard, which was introduced in November 2021, required all Suncorp workers to provide proof of vaccination or seek an exemption. Suncorp argued that covid was having a significant impact on its operations and was seeking ways to reduce that impact.
The woman refused to get vaccinated, saying she still had doubts “about whether covid-19 is real”, and after further consultations her employment was terminated on December 9 2021, effective immediately with four weeks’ pay in lieu of her notice period.
“Termination of employment is the only appropriate disciplinary action in light of the seriousness of this matter and your conduct,” Suncorp told her.
The employee had argued that her role could be carried out from home but Suncorp, and the Fair Work Commission, disagreed. While she had previously been working from home, her role included a requirement to meet in person with clients, the ruling said, and this would have been expected as restrictions lifted.
“I am satisfied that there was a valid reason for the Applicant’s dismissal,” the ruling states.
“The standard was a lawful and reasonable direction that the Applicant was required, by the terms of her contract of employment, to comply with.
“The Applicant refused to comply with a lawful and reasonable direction of her employer and her breach was of such significance in the context of the Respondent’s workplace health and safety obligations and duty of care to the majority of its compliant employees, that dismissal was a sound, defensible response to the Applicant’s conduct.
“In the face of the Applicant’s intransigence, it was the only reasonable response.”
The ruling says the woman’s “insistence” that Covid-19 doesnt’t exist “is offensive to the many persons who have lost their lives or continue to suffer ill health because of contracting Covid-19 and to their loved ones and all who have suffered detriment in the fight to control the virus”.
“Essentially, the Applicant had a difficult choice to comply with the standard by doing something she did not wish to do, or to lose her employment.
“While this is regrettable, the Applicant’s dismissal for the reason that she refused to comply with a lawful and reasonable direction to be vaccinated and to advise her status to her employer, was not unfair.”