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In one of the first COVID-19-related employment law discrimination cases to reach the Scottish Courts, an employment tribunal has found that a group of fire fighters in Scotland suffered "unfavourable treatment" from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) due to their ongoing health conditions.

Jillian Merchant, of Thompsons Solicitors, represented the claimants. She says she is delighted with the decision reached at the tribunal.

"The Scottish Government's advice was that disabled workers who need to shield for their own protection should not be punished.

"The SFRS is one of many public authorities that signed up to the Fair Work Statement which held that no worker would suffer unfavourably if they followed public health guidance.

"The finding of this tribunal is that these fire fighters not only suffered a detriment, but they were discriminated against."

Coronavirus shielding and discrimination

The tribunal heard that fire fighters who needed to 'shield' during the COVID119 pandemic and were unable to work from home were forced to use holidays and TOIL (time off in lieu) while they were away from the workplace.

Advice from the Scottish Government had been clear: any worker who needed to shield from possible exposure to coronavirus should not be penalised by loss of "future entitlements like holiday and accrued time”.

The tribunal found the SFRS guilty of disability discrimination as a result of its actions towards the shielding fire fighters.

However, as of yet, the SFRS has received no penalty for the discriminatory acts and the affected workers have not received any financial compensation for or reinstatement of the holiday time and entitlements they lost while shielding.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has expressed its satisfaction with the employment discrimination ruling, but has stated that the lack of sanctions against the SFRS is disappointing.

Scottish Secretary of the FBU Denise Christie told The Herald that, in principal the result was pleasing, and another example of how trade unions will fight for their members rights.

However, she added that it is impossible to ignore the fact that no sanction has been imposed on SFRS and that no order has been given for the affected claimants to have their lost holidays and entitlements reinstated. Which, she says, is clearly unjust.

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