A delivery driver is thought to be the first person in Britain to be sacked for refusing to wear a face mask at work.
Deimantas Kubilius ‘dug his heels in’ when he arrived to drop off an order at Tate and Lyle sugar refinery in East London.
Bosses at the site were concerned he could pass on the virus while speaking out of the window, but the driver refused to comply and said ‘my cab is my home’.
Mr Kubilius, from Basildon, Essex, was sacked over the incident and then launched legal action against his employer.
But the Polish national lost his case after a judge ruled distribution firm Kent Foods was entitled to fire him, in what is thought to be the first case of its kind in Britain.
During the incident in May last year, two months into the first national lockdown, workplaces up and down the UK introduced PPE measures for the first time.
Tate and Lyle took the decision masks should always be worn, but when Mr Kubilius showed up at the refinery on May 21, he refused.
A subsequent email from Tate and Lyle to Kent Foods said: ‘Unfortunately we had an incident with one of your drivers this morning.
‘The driver was asked repeatedly to put his mask on by one of our managers. Every driver receives a mask when he enters site with instructions to wear the mask when on site. He refused, saying he was in his cab and he didn’t have to.’
Mr Kubilius, who felt his space in his truck was being ‘invaded’, was banned from the site.
He defended himself by pointing out that he was not required to by law and said he happily complied by wearing a mask when outside the vehicle.
He added: ‘When I leaving my cab I wear mask and first it’s not the law [sic].’
Tate and Lyle manager Jon Freeman said he tried to explain that with no mask on, ‘all the droplets coming from his mouth as he spoke were going to land on people’s faces’, but still he said no.
Tate and Lyle’s Nick Kirbyshire added: ‘To have someone, who is a visitor on site blatantly refusing a simple request, is extremely frustrating and it did make me very angry.
‘As that mask was not for his protection. That mask was to protect everyone else on site from any potential Covid risk that the driver has brought in with him.’
Mr Kubilius contended that it ‘was not reasonable’ for Kent Foods to sack him, but Employment Judge Barrett dismissed his unfair dismissal claim at East London tribunal centre.
He said he accepted the driver’s evidence that he was not informed of the requirement to wear a face mask until asked to do so at the refinery.
The judge added: ‘Kubilius is a details-oriented person who believed he was following the written site instructions. He was surprised by the instruction, and dug his heels in.
‘Everyone was operating under a level of stress as key-workers required to work during the coronavirus lockdown.’
Judge Barrett said though it may have been ‘reasonable’ to warn Mr Kubilius, his ‘continued insistence that he had done nothing wrong’ caused Kent Foods to ‘reasonably lose confidence in his future conduct’.
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