A telephone operator who resigned in disgust after his boss ordered him to be returned to his desk during the Covid-19 disaster has won more than £ 15,000 in compensation.
Superintendent Bridget Regnante, 51, said she was ‘too scared’ to quit her job at home as her 66-year-old husband was protecting himself following cancer treatment.
But his team leader Lawrence King suggested he ‘exaggerate’ his condition as he regularly traveled to Tesco to buy groceries for himself and eight-year-old Giuseppe’s husband.
He even advised her to move to a hotel just to be in the office.
Finally Mr King said if Ms Regnante wanted to work from home she would put him on holiday free of charge instead adding: ‘You will need to come to work successfully starting after your lunch break today recognizing social distance.
Call center employee Bridget Regnante (pictured), 51, said she was ‘too scared’ to quit her homework as her 66-year-old husband Giuseppe (pictured) was protecting himself from cancer treatment.
‘If you decide you do not want to continue this, then you will be on vacation for free until you feel safe to return to work.
‘As you know, the country is standing and as top workers, we all need to work together to address this.
‘If the service requires you to work in a call center, we will continue to request this. This is a good expectation. ‘
Ms. Regnante, of Worthing, West Sussex quit her job at Essex Care Limited which provides services and facilities to people in their homes.
He later sued for dismissal in a fair and unfair manner saying he was left ‘hurt’ by Mr King’s treatment.
In one court case she won £ 15,760.32 including compensation of £ 5,500 for damage she suffered on health and safety grounds after her husband represented her during an online hearing.
The case was reported to Mr Regnante, an Italian-born construction trader who was diagnosed with stomach cancer in July 2018 and later underwent intensive chemotherapy and then surgery to remove spleen and stomach.
When the locks started in March 2020, Ms. Regnante was very worried that her husband was at risk of the virus so she would wash all their vegetables and the couple slept in separate rooms.
He did not leave their belongings in the lurch and would travel to Tesco locally during quiet times as there was a three-week waiting list for online shipments.
He was previously allowed to work from home but his laptop was not always working and the phones were not routinely directed to his home.
By April 2020 a few weeks after the locksmith started Mr King was said to have ‘lost patience’ with her, claiming he was only able to do 50 percent of his work at home.
On Sunday Ms. Regnante was called in for an evening shift to the telephone station at the company’s Worthing office when she discovered she was serving a colleague who had Covid symptoms and whose son was hospitalized with the virus.
When he got home he e-mailed Mr King saying: ‘When you called me today to ask me to take over the call center, I was shocked that you asked me, considering the fact that I was away from the community for 12 weeks because Giuseppe was in serious danger and immunity.
‘She never leaves the house and I just go out for a walk, to buy groceries to get the medicine she needs.
‘I said “yes” while holding on to the hop and I didn’t have time to think.
‘A little later, I thought I could touch the infected parts and feel bad, but then I thought, I will do this shift and not the others, and remember to wash your hands, use hand gel and generally be very careful.
‘I don’t know what you were thinking when you asked me to come to the office while this was going on.
‘Now I’m afraid I’ll bring / have already brought it into the house.
‘I can’t come to the office again to make phone call turns. I need to protect Giuseppe. ‘
But Mr King replied: ‘I gave you the option to come to the office yesterday to work at the telephone station.
‘You can practice social distance easily as you know you can work from the back office where you can work alone listening to the phone ring and it is easy to keep yourself away from the CCA coming to the office.
‘Secondly, I’m very worried that you feel coming to an empty office is a concern but, as you said on the phone, going to Tesco to do a weekly shop is still something you keep doing.
“We have been following the guidelines set by the government and by allowing you to work from home, during normal working hours, it is more acceptable.”
She later sent him a complete spreadsheet so she could see what he was doing all day and objected to nine answers that Mrs. Regnante gave when asked to fill out a WFH questionnaire.
When Ms. Regnante was advised by her IT colleagues to make a two-hour round trip to Essex to repair her laptop, Mr King questioned why her husband fired her.
The case was told that the company had set up handwriting units around the office and provided 15 employees who worked on masks, antibacterial wipes, tissues and hand cream and times of rapid start with the intention of making the area safer Covid .
Giuseppe Regnante (pictured) was said to be in critical condition after surviving gastric cancer in 2018 – undergoing chemotherapy and surgery to remove spleen and stomach.
But Ms Regnante said there was little evidence of any caution when she came for her evening shift and finally sent a message to her manager saying: ‘Giuseppe is in serious danger of becoming very ill if he is infected.
‘I can’t risk being infected and feeling that coming to work would leave me exposed to potentially infected faces and it is difficult to isolate myself all the time, in good faith.
‘Since COVID-19 is an infectious disease, I do not believe we can be sure not to infect it if it is around us.
“With my husband having two vital organs that do not affect his immune system and after receiving chemotherapy in the last 12 months, I will not take this chance for granted.
‘I know there are probably people working across the company who live with people who protect and work on ECL websites.
“However, this is their call to action and we are all different.
‘Government advice from the beginning has been very clear, namely that people must work at home, unless it is absolutely impossible to do so.
“I expected my supervisors to deal with me in this situation but I have no choice but to give my notice reluctantly, to protect my husband from any risks that attending the office may pose.
“I do not believe that the measures put in place by the Worthing office will be effective, given its size and the amount of people working in the aforementioned environment.”
In his ruling, Employment Judge Eoin Fowell criticized Mr King for being ‘honest, non-judgmental, hateful and ruthless’ in his e-mails to Ms Regnante.
The judge added: “The impetus for the government’s direction was that the general population, and Ms. Regnante in particular, should stay at home unless absolutely necessary.
“The guidelines also placed an obligation on the employer to assist him in this matter and to discuss matters with him but it does not appear that much was done to enable him to work from home.
“He had IT equipment, which was problematic, and responsibility was placed on him to solve it.
That put him in a difficult situation on one of the long trips to Brentwood, at a time when police were stopping cars thought of making unnecessary trips, and the company sought to use the trip as a reason for him to work in the office.
‘A lot of his work could have been done at home but the company seems to us to be more concerned with fair disputes, which are basically emerging to the point of asking, “Why not be at home?”
‘The emphasis placed by the company in restoring him to office seems to be out of proportion to the benefits available to the company.
“It is ironic that the company may be overly concerned about moving to a hotel, which would probably cost more than his salary so that he could return to the office on a regular basis.
‘Basically, he was a supervisor, working in a support role, and a very vulnerable husband, who was able to do most of his work at home.
‘The danger for Mr Regnante, if he had caught Covid, was very serious.
‘Even a 1% chance of bringing Covid into the home can be seen as an unacceptable risk.
“There was no real recognition anywhere that Ms. Regnante truly believed that she would be putting her husband’s life in danger if she entered the office.
‘The problems of working at home seem to be exaggerated and exaggerated.’