A French housing association has dismissed an employee after he visited his office before he had learnt the result of a coronavirus test that proved positive.
HLM M2A worker Sébastien Klem, 41, argued that he had no idea he had the virus and had only taken a test because he was driving past a diagnostic centre and saw there was no queue.
However, he did concede in a TV interview that while he felt generally fine he had a “light” cough.
He told broadcaster France3: “It was a case of seeing an opportunity while I was driving. All I did was follow the government’s recommendations. The advice to get tested was all over the media. I felt on fine form and the day before I even went running.”
Working in the pandemic
On 16 July Klem returned to his office in Mulhouse after taking the test. The same evening he found out he was positive for Covid-19 and immediately told his employer and self-isolated for 14 days with his four-year-old daughter.
His employer disputed his version of his events, however.
After a month HLM M2A wrote to him, stating: “Despite carrying out a test on the morning of 16 July 2020, and despite the risk that you have put other colleagues in, you returned to your professional activity in the afternoon and mixed with work colleagues when you had doubts about your state of health in going and having a Covid-19 test.
“Your behaviour is totally irresponsible and constitutes a violation of your obligation towards safety. One does not get tested if one doesn’t have a suspicion” of having the virus. Klem was dismissed for serious misconduct but he is mounting a case at the French equivalent of an employment tribunal.
Eric Peter, the director general of HLM M2A, said: “He told colleagues he had a fever. They have given us written statements to this effect. We don’t play with people’s lives … given the seriousness of what happened there was no other possible punishment.”
All staff at the housing association received notification in May that they should work at home if they had the “slightest symptom”.
There’s no evidence Klem passed on the virus to his family members or any colleagues and he said he had a medical certificate that showed he had a light cough and no other symptoms.
He told the TV station: “I went to get a test and I am punished. I’m now unemployed. If I hadn’t done the test I’d still have my job except I might perhaps have killed someone,” he said.
Commenting on the case for Personnel Today, Melanie Stancliffe, partner in the employment team of Cripps Pemberton Greenish, said: “The risk is identical in the UK – an employee who doesn’t say they have any symptoms and attends work whilst awaiting the result of their Covid test is putting their colleagues at risk. The employee doesn’t know they have Covid but might have some low-level suspicion otherwise they wouldn’t go for the test in the first place.
“The law is clear what should happen when an employee reports symptoms and once a positive test result is received; employers must support the employee to stay at home while they self-isolate, the employee is entitled to statutory sick pay, the employer should support the employee requesting a test as soon as possible and the employee will be asked to alert the people they have had close contact with in the 48 hours before the start of their symptoms, which might include work colleagues (whom the employee may want their employer to alert).
“The position is less clear where the employee is asymptomatic or fails to report their symptoms – here, employers will have to look at each case separately and decide if the employee should face disciplinary action.
“Employers have to encourage honest discussion with their employees as the employer is ‘on the hook’ – they can be penalised if they knowingly permit an employee to attend their workplace when they should be self-isolating and employees could consider the employer has allowed a risk to their health.”