A French housing association employee has been fired for serious misconduct after returning to his office before receiving the result of a coronavirus test that came back positive.
Sébastien Klem, 41, insisted he had no idea he had the virus and only took a test because he was driving past a diagnostic centre and saw there was no queue. “Apart from a light cough, I didn’t have any other symptom,” Klem told France3 television.
“It was a case of seeing an opportunity while I was driving. All I did was follow the government’s recommendations. The advice to get tested was all over the media. I felt on fine form and the day before I even went running.”
After taking the test in July, Klem returned to his office. That evening he received the positive result and immediately informed his employer HLM M2A, a social housing association, and self-isolated for 14 days with his four-year-old daughter.
However, a month later his employers, based at Mulhouse in eastern France, terminated his contract in a letter that read: “Despite carrying out a test on the morning of 16 July 2020, and despite the risk that you have put other colleagues in, you returned to you professional activity in the afternoon and mixed with work colleagues when you had doubts about your state of health in going and having a Covid-19 test. Your behaviour is totally irresponsible and constitutes a violation of your obligation towards safety.”
It added: “One does not get tested if one doesn’t have a suspicion [of having the virus].”
Klem’s former colleagues have disputed his version of events. One told France3 he was “pale, had red eyes and a heavy cough”.
Eric Peter, the director general of HLM M2A, said: “He [Klem] told colleagues he had a fever. They have given us written statements to this effect.”
Peter added: “We don’t play with people’s lives … given the seriousness of what happened there was no other possible punishment.”
The company also accused Klem of ignoring a letter sent in May outlining health precautions during the coronavirus crisis, suggesting staff should work from home if they have the “slightest symptom”. The document, however, did not mention a cough.
Klem, who did not subsequently pass the virus on to any of his colleagues or family members, is contesting his sacking at an industrial tribunal. He said he has a medical certificate from the time that showed he had a “light cough” and no other symptoms.
“I went to get a test and I am punished. I’m now unemployed. If I hadn’t done the test I’d still have my job except I might perhaps have killed someone,” he said.