Countrywide wins ‘Covid return to work’ unfair dismissal case

Sales negotiator resigned after telling boss he was unhappy to return to branch office during second lockdown in Scotland.

covid employment tribunal slater hogg howison countrywide

An employment tribunal has thrown out the case of a Countrywide property valuer who claimed he was unfairly dismissed after refusing to go into the office during Scotland’s second lockdown.

Graham Leitch, who had worked at Slater Hogg & Howison’s Livingstone branch since 2006, resigned in February after disagreeing with his boss about whether it was safe to return to work after Christmas last year.

His Countrywide branch manager, Michaela Brooks, told him that working from home would impact the team’s performance, increase the workload of the two other staff, and affect his ability to perform his job effectively.

Leitch did about five valuations a week, conducted follow-up visits with sellers and generated business by making 20 marketing calls to prospective clients each day.

He also covered the other staff members by taking telephone calls during lunch breaks. After the first lockdown, desks were more than 2m apart, everyone had to wear face masks when walking about the office and customers had to make appointments to visit. He worked there without complaint until January 2021.

Second lockdown

When the second lockdown was announced, Leitch became concerned about his health and safety and did not think the office was Covid-secure, so stayed away on 4th January, telling his boss that he could carry out market appraisals and meet with prospective clients at their property, but would otherwise carry out 95% of his duties from home.

However, he was told that he was needed in the office to deal with queries and field calls efficiently, otherwise the workload of the other two members of staff would be increased.

Leitch reluctantly returned to work but left again on 8th January and was signed off sick by his GP due to work-related stress. He was put on unpaid leave by Countrywide and a resulting grievance hearing and appeal were both rejected. Leitch resigned on 26th February.

The tribunal ruled that the company hadn’t failed to provide a safe working environment and was not in breach of a positive legal obligation to allow him to work from home.

It said: “The claimant had considerable input in terms of generating business and supporting other members of staff by working as part of a team of three…for the claimant to work effectively in his role of valuer as part of the team in the Livingstone branch he had to work in the office.”


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