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After refusing COVID-19 vaccine employee wins lawsuit against employer

covid 19

A former employee of a car rental company at OR Tambo International Airport who was fired for refusing to receive a Covid-19 vaccination on religious grounds won his arbitration case against his former employer when the commissioner ruled that his termination was substantially unfair, IOL reports.

Owen Cook was awarded six months’ salary from Zenith Car Rental, trading as Avis Rent a Car and Budget Rent a Car.

The company had implemented a mandatory vaccination policy, but Cook’s request to be exempt from the policy was denied.

In March of last year, he was fired for gross disobedience after refusing to carry out what the company deemed a reasonable instruction by failing to present a Covid-19 vaccination certificate.

The employer believed that Cook was a front-line employee and that he could not be accommodated elsewhere.

Cook turned to arbitration and stated that he was willing to mask and sanitize, but his employer refused. He also stated that he had previously contracted Covid-19 and thus possessed antibodies.

Cook added that, at the time of his dismissal, the government had already loosened restrictions on Covid-19.

A company risk executive testified that the company conducted a risk assessment and concluded that a vaccination mandate should be implemented.

Additionally, he stated that the company was unable to transfer Cook to another department because he dealt directly with customers.

However, he was unable to produce a Covid-19 plan developed by the company.

In addition, he admitted that there was no religious expert on the exemption committee and that he could not recall whether any exemption applications based on constitutional or religious grounds had been approved.

Cook’s refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in an effort to control the virus in the workplace was deemed unreasonable by the company.

Cook testified to his interpretation of the Bible and stated that he could not be vaccinated due to his strong religious beliefs. In addition, he mentioned that the government was in the process of easing restrictions at the time the employer adopted its mandatory vaccination policy. Thus, he argued, the policy was introduced very late.

In addition, he indicated that he had contracted Covid-19 in November 2021 and possessed antibodies, thereby immunity.

Cook used the fact that herd immunity had been achieved at the time to justify his decision not to receive a vaccination.

He stated that he never intended to be disrespectful or to undermine authority, but he simply did not see a way to get vaccinated.

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The commissioner determined that the company failed to meet its burden of proving that the employee was grossly disobedient for failing to present a Covid-19 vaccination certificate as instructed.

“His actions were not those of a subversive employee who intentionally and unreasonable refused to comply with a reasonable instruction. His application for exemption was denied.”

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