Supreme Court voids employee contract termination in vaccine refusal cases

The Supreme Court building.
The Supreme Court building. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Supreme Court has upheld a Tartu Circuit Court ruling which nullified an Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) termination of the contract of an employee who had refused to get a coronavirus vaccination, setting a precedent in doing so.

The circuit court ruling, of July 1, itself upheld a first-tier county court decision from March.

The Supreme Court declined to take the EDF appeal in cassation, meaning it effectively threw the case out.

Law fim Pallo & Partnerid, acting for the employee, says that in the light of all the judgments, it would be reasonable to find a legal settlement between the parties, and avoid further, large procedural costs.

Sworn advocate Jaanika Reilik-Bakhoff of Pallo & Partnerid said : "We would be able to conclude disputes relating to approximately 100 people via a compromise, if it were finally recommended to admit that such introductions of mandatory vaccination were not justified," adding that legal settlement would mitigate further procedural costs of tens of thousands of euros.

"So far, all people who have argued on this issue at the courts have won their case – all the judges across Estonia cannot be wrong," Reilik-Bakhoff added.

The judgment is the first to have entered into force in connection with the establishment of the vaccination obligations and the termination of the employment relationship in connection with that.

Over 20 ex-EDF personnel along with 15 ambulance workers and over 50 Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) personnel are affected by the cases.

The Tartu-based Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the EDF's cassation appeal would not be processed, meaning the July 1 Tartu Circuit Court decision automatically entered into force.

The latter decision provides for the payment of three months' salary compensation to an affected employee, while the court also confirmed that the employer cannot unilaterally demand vaccination from an employee, when this had not been subject to prior agreement between the parties and/or a prerequisite for fulfilling the work obligations. 

The district court found that, in "extreme" cases, the reorganization of workloads could be discussed, which could result in the layoff (ie. with redundancy pay) of the employee, but not the outright dismissal.

The Tartu County Court had found that at the point in time at which the EDF terminated the employee's contract, it could not have been stated as a matter of certainty that vaccination against Covid was the only, proportionate measure which could be used to halt viral spread.

The plaintiff in this case had been working part-time in a storehouse and was reportedly not regularly in indoor contact with large numbers of people, meaning standard Covid practices at the time, such as mask-wearing, hand disinfecting and rapid testing, were thought to have.

46 EDF members were dismissed in November 2021, after refusing to get vaccinated against Covid.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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