‘I went to get a Covid-19 test and now I’ve lost my job’

A queue for a Covid-19 test in Mulhouse, France.
Photo: Shutterstock

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.”

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.

Legal comment

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.”

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6 Responses to ‘I went to get a Covid-19 test and now I’ve lost my job’

  1. Avatar
    Maddux 6 Oct 2020 at 8:46 am #

    Poor sod! Governments use covid-19 to control and scare the masses, now firms have soft reasons to cut corners too ! Wish this poor innocent ave responsible chap gets justice from the guillotine

  2. Avatar
    Jim Jones 9 Oct 2020 at 3:05 pm #

    Why would you have a test if you thought you did not have covid-19.
    The right decision was made. He willfully put his colleagues as risk, irresponsible and unreasonable behaviour.
    “If I hadn’t done the test I’d still have my job except I might perhaps have killed someone” – Well it’s a good job that he did the test then, at least he got that part right.

  3. Avatar
    Aaron Sams 4 Nov 2020 at 10:51 pm #

    This whole situation is wrong. We are in a pandemic were peoples jobs are at risk and peoples mental health is at crisis.

    Millions of people believe they might have come into contact, could be worried about their loved ones or own heath. You should not punish people for wanting to know if they have something that they could die with but still show good working ethic to that company during difficult times.

    The only person who knows the truth about symptoms, is the person with it or a medical professional. Therefore, others cannot come to a conclusion unless they are medically trained. There are over 10 symptoms of Covid-19, most of which are common in everyone’s life and are usually brushed away. It should be noted that people with genuine symptoms show these for 5-14 days after starting, based on current documentation from the WHO. If your symptoms are due to (lack of sleep, general headaches or smokers cough) then 80% of people will brush this off fully believing they do not have covid.

    When governments such as France, Germany and other European countries do not set out clear guidance on what you can and cannot do, individuals cannot be punished because they have not been informed correctly.

    We are all humans, who instinctively look out for ourselves and love ones. This sacking ideology will only make employees not want to take tests, especially when redundancies are about. Fear of being targeted because management want staff working and not to isolate will have a positive effect in covid cases.

    I hope this person wins their legal case, this is disgusting behaviour.

    AS

  4. Avatar
    Krijn Teunissen 16 Nov 2020 at 6:52 pm #

    This person should not be sacked. In any law case you are not guilty until proven otherwise. So why should this principle not apply to a COVID test?

  5. Avatar
    Bob Thompson 19 Nov 2020 at 7:02 pm #

    This situation just happened to me. I came back from a work trip and felt light diarrhea. But I didn’t think anything of it. Got tested Tuesday, got results Saturday, waited the weekend and told my office Monday morning I had covid. My rationale was I’ll sound the alarm when I’m sure of it. Also, the cognitive dissonance and denial ones mind may go through when they find out they’re positive with a strange, unknowable disease shouldn’t be shrugged off either. It wasn’t the best judgement on my part but I don’t think I should’ve gotten fired either.

    HR said I should’ve told them I was feeling symptoms on Tuesday but I didn’t know it was covid, I just took the test as a preemptive measure. Technically I was let go due to “violating the safety protocol”. Whatever.

    • Avatar
      Martin Neary 16 Dec 2020 at 3:14 am #

      So you admit you thought it was possible u had covid regardless of how unlikely you thought it…. And yet you put others at risk of Infection…at what point did you think that was OK? Irregardless of how small the possibility was u were Concerned about yourhealthenoughto take the test but not Co cerned enough about anybody else…. Selfish

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