WRC facing ‘mountain’ of cases of alleged discrimination over mask-wearing

Annual report says majority of complainants last year cited disability as grounds

The Workplace Relations Commission is facing having to rule on a “mountain” of cases brought by people claiming they were discriminated against for not wearing a face mask while public health controls were in effect for Covid-19.

The WRC’s annual report, which was released on Friday, reveals that in 572 claims referred under the Equal Status Act in 2021, 362 complainants cited disability as a ground for discrimination. The equivalent figure in 2020 was 91, which was at that point a record since the WRC started providing the data in its annual reports.

The increase of 271 cases amounts to a 298 per cent rise year-on year.

A source familiar with the situation has said the increase is “all mask-related” – describing it as a “mountain” of complaints.

Due to the WRC adjudication service’s current case load, it can take up to a year between the submission of a complaint and a first hearing date. The bulk of face mask claims decided on to date relate to incidents in the first quarter of 2021 or earlier.

In only one such case has the Workplace Relations Commission found in favour of a complainant.

The Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street was ordered to pay James Oliver Tattan €500 in compensation after he was left upset and embarrassed by the insistence of a porter that he put on a face mask when he was medically exempt on December 16th, 2020.

Mr Tattan said in evidence that he had a letter confirming his disability but that the porter refused to look at it. This was denied by the hotel in its submission, but its management was unable to produce CCTV footage of the incident, as it had been overwritten. The porter had since returned to his home country and was unable to give evidence in defence of the claim.

The adjudicating officer in the case, Davnet O’Driscoll, ruled that as there was a conflict between the sworn evidence of the complainant and the hotel’s submission, she would accept the account of the event given by the complainant, and ruled that he had been discriminated against.

In the seven other mask-related Employment Equality Act complaints decided since the start of this year, the WRC ruled against the complainant.

Separately, WRC inspectors recovered some €964,281 from employers found to be in breach of employment law last year.

About half of the recovered pay related to the wholesale and retail trade, where 599 employers were found to have broken the law – leading to the recovery of over €456,856. The second largest sum, €145,609, was recovered from 263 operators in the food service business. The third highest sum paid out was by just seven firms in the security sector, which were ordered to pay €73,853 in unpaid wages.