In the case of Kubilius v Kent Foods Ltd, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, one of Kent Food's major customers Tate & Lyle ('Tate') required face masks to be worn by all staff at its Thames site and visitors were issued with a face mask on entry.
The Kent Foods Driver's Handbook stated that customer instruction regarding PPE must be followed and maintaining good relationships with customers and suppliers was essential. The Kent Foods Employee Handbook required:
During a delivery to Tate's Thames site, Mr Kubilius refused to wear a face mask whilst sat in his lorry cabin with the window open. Managers at the site were concerned that he could pass the virus to other people due to his elevated position in the lorry. Two Tate employees requested that Mr Kubilius put his mask on whilst in the cabin, however he argued that his cabin was his home and that wearing a face mask was not a legal requirement. He was subsequently banned from the Tate site, which materially affected his ability to do his job.
Following an investigation by Kent Foods, Mr Kubilius was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct. In refusing to comply with Tate's instructions regarding PPE, Kent Foods found that Mr Kubilius had breached the requirements to maintain good relationships with clients and to co-operate to ensure a safe working environment. Mr Kubilius brought a claim for unfair dismissal to the Employment Tribunal.
The Employment Tribunal held that Mr Kubilius' dismissal had been fair. The reasons behind the decision included the following:
Although this decision should be treated with caution by employers and it should not be considered that refusal to wear a face mask by employees will always amount to gross misconduct, it highlights how employers should: