Joseph Farrugia, Director General of the Malta Employers Association

Malta Employers Association (MEA) director Joseph Farrugia has sharply criticised a local industrial tribunal over its considerations in the case of an employee who was dismissed after going abroad without telling her boss, saying it was “detached from reality” and “oblivious” to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this week, an industrial tribunal chaired by Franco Masini found that Plan 17 Limited, operators of St Julian’s restaurant Planet Hollywood, had illegally dismissed Miriam Garcia Medina, a waitress, after she traveled to Rome without informing her superiors.

Ms Garcia Medina tested positive for COVID-19 upon her return, resulting in the restaurant being shut down for two days, but the tribunal said there is no evidence that the infection resulted from her travels, pointing to an increase in local cases at the time of the incident in August 2020.

The tribunal acknowledged the “disastrous effect” on the restaurant, but since there was no travel ban in place at the time, it found that Ms Garcia Medina had not broken any law.

Plan 17 Limited was therefore ordered to pay the former employee €9,000 as compensation for the illegal dismissal.

In comments made to BusinessNow.mt, the MEA director said the tribunal, in its considerations, failed to consider the rights of other employees and clients in determining that an employer has no right to know what their workers do while not at work.

“The company would have been irresponsible if a policy was not in place in the context of a global pandemic,” he said.

While admitting that the company’s policy could have specified that management should only be informed when travelling to a country with very high numbers of cases and which therefore posed a particular risk, Mr Farrugia said the chairman of the tribunal “appears to have been oblivious to the fact that the pandemic was a force majeure which brought the whole economy to a standstill”.

He further called out the tribunal for being “detached from the realities” facing employers during the pandemic, with reference to the sick and quarantine leave the employee would benefit from at the employer’s expense.

However, Mr Farrugia could not fault the tribunal’s final decision, saying it had “a reasonable argument” on whether a dismissal was actually justified.

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