Terminated ER employees to turn to court

Joona Sõsa. PHOTO: Mihkel Maripuu

Tallinn Emergency Medical Service (TEMS) terminated the contracts of around 22 employees who refused to get vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus in early August. Some former employees have decided to sue TEMS Chief of Medicine Raul Adlas.

Joona Sõsa, former TEMS nurse-crew chief, is among those let go toward the start of the month. He is also among those planning to take the matter to court.

Sõsa said that the whole thing started on May 17 when employees were expected to produce vaccination certificates. Those who did not were threatened with termination. People started getting emails.

“Adlas sent a document to unvaccinated employees according to which they would not have work between July 22 and July 31, with their shifts given to other employees. Those who were not vaccinated were prohibited from coming in to work,” Sõsa said, adding that no one spoke to him in person.

Employee immunization vital

The abrupt termination led to gaps in the work schedule. “There were 47 empty shifts in the crew chiefs’ schedule – 47 shifts, because people who have put themselves through four years of school, have educated themselves and worked are not allowed to come in and the rest are forced to work overtime,” Sõsa said.

He added that even though the government says Estonia does not and will not have mandatory vaccination, his situation is precisely that.

Chief of Medicine for TEMS Raul Adlas said that emergency medical care is usually aimed at severe trauma victims or people who are critically ill and administered outside hospitals. That is why it is vital for those providing the care not to infect patients or their next of kin with a dangerous virus. “Because we are not in control of the environment in which we work during the emergency medical care stage and know relatively little of the patient’s condition, immunizing EMTs in the pandemic is of critical importance,” Adlas said.

“We terminated the contracts of around 22 people of the 520 that work for us because they did not meet COVID-19 immunization criteria. Some of them have gotten vaccinated since then and returned to work, with the latter process ongoing,” Adlas explained.

TEMS started vaccinating its staff in January, Adlas said, adding that all employees who come into contact with patients and service support staff are fully vaccinated by today, meaning that the ambulance service has done all it can to ensure patient and employee safety.

Why not vaccinate? Joona Sõsa said that a large part of the reason is that looking at scientific sources and materials, Covid also infects and in some cases kills people who have been vaccinated. “Vaccination only protects the vaccinated, and we can see today that people who have been vaccinated are still spreading the disease,” he said.

Support coerced?

Sõsa is among the founders of the Estonian Emergency Medical Staff Union (EKTA). “Creating a union of different specialists – ambulance technicians, EMTs, assistant nurses, nurses, nurses-crew chiefs and doctors – had been mulled for years,” Sõsa said, adding that the union was necessary to bring everyone under the same banner.

The union appealed to the Tallinn city government for a no-confidence motion against Adlas and his removal from office in mid-July. A campaign to collect signatures in support of Adlas started at around the same time.

Sõsa maintains that the signatures are meaningless. “We have received proof – messages and screenshots – of people being sent to the assistant manager’s office instead of allowing them to enter the locker rooms where they are expected to voluntarily sign a document in support of Adlas. Those who refuse are asked for the reason. That is not fair play,” Sõsa said.

EKTA legal representative Jaanika Reilik-Bakhoff said that similar court cases are taking place all over the world. The question is whether this kind of vaccination under duress is legal and whether requiring people to vaccinate using a certain product can serve as a precondition for working certain jobs. “For example, the European Court of Human Rights found in a recent vaccination dispute that only vaccines that have been on the market for a long time and completed a full set of clinical trials can be made mandatory, which is something current COVID-19 vaccines that only have a conditional sales permit are not,” Reilik-Bakhoff explained.

“Coming now to the collective action, it includes a lot of different circumstances and people. It is not just about vaccination – some people have recovered from the virus. Some have the required number of antibodies but have still been let go,” the attorney said.

Some looking to return to work

People have different goals in court. Some want to be reinstated. “Some also want compensation for non-material damage. People have been under a lot of pressure for six months, been called anti-vaccers. They are not against vaccines! Most have been immunized with other vaccines that are in use in Estonia. Some have gotten vaccinated against Covid in hopes TEMS would hire them back. Some vaccinated out of fear even before they were fired. The thing that matters is that all such vaccinations took place as a result of people being threatened with loss of income and coercion that cannot be interpreted as voluntary,” Reilik-Bakhoff explained.

Asked about the legality of such terminations, the attorney said that working on several dozen similar cases, one sees employers give the same reason – the Labor Inspectorate allowed it. Figuratively speaking, the entire circus revolves around the fact the inspectorate has offered a scheme for terminating employees, which is the main argument employers use, Reilik-Bakhoff said.

“The scheme that is available on the inspectorate’s website and helps employers terminate unvaccinated employees is based on a section of the Employment Contracts Act that deals with an employee’s failure to perform their tasks over an extended period of time. How have they not performed? On the contrary, they have managed to help Covid patients since last spring. As a lawyer, I do not understand this interpretation of the legal norm. I sincerely hope the court will help bring clarity and justice in this matter.”