Barry-Relph v Health Service Executive
EMPLOYMENT APPEALS TRIBUNAL
CASE NO. UD980/14
This being a case of constructive dismissal it fell to the claimant to present her case first.
It should be noted both parties in this matter submitted a vast quantity of correspondence, including minutes / notes of meetings, emails and letters which were all opened to the Tribunal in full.
The claimant has many qualifications in social work and child protection and worked as a senior practitioner in A & E. She gained a lot of her experience in the UK.
She was encouraged to apply for and was interviewed for the position of Principal Social Worker with the respondent. Her place of work was in the North West of the country. She was offered the position in June 2011 but with a public service embargo she did not commence in her new position until 23rd January 2012. She told the Tribunal that she was really excited about returning to Ireland having worked in the UK for a considerable time. It was an honour to return to Ireland. She was mindful she had a lot to learn. The position had been vacant for twenty months prior to the claimant commencing in that role. Her job specification included working within the Integrated Service Directorate as part of multi-disciplinary teams delivering a co-ordinated approach to client care. Her role also included the Primary Care Social Work Service. Three team leaders reported to her. The leaders had been in acting up positions which carried additional allowances. They in turn managed social workers within their team. One team leader was responsible for learning disability services, another team leader was responsible for mental health services and the final team leader was responsible for older persons/hospital services.
On commencement of her employment the claimant reported to CON, General Manager. After three to four months, CON commenced maternity leave and FM assumed the role of Acting General Manager. The Area Manager was DMcC.
At her first meeting with the Team Leaders she was made aware that one Team Leader had applied for her position and was quite disappointed not to secure the position. Two Team Leaders had opposed her appointment. The claimant was quite shocked to learn of this and felt undermined and belittled.
The claimant became aware that she was on a lesser salary than the Team Leaders were on and raised this in a Memo to her General Manager and again felt undermined. She lost her appeal on this issue.
She prepared and addressed a Memorandum to DMcC on the social work team structure in which she believed there were a number of anomalies in relation to social work budget, blurred differentiation of internal operational structures leading to role ambiguity and lack of capacity within the administrative services to fulfil demands being placed on it.
The claimant spent eight months trying to access files and she experienced hostility from team leaders. She had concerns about the direction of travel the SLWC Social Work Service would take if it was moved out of her social work role and in this regard she emailed DMcC on 20 December 2012. Social Workers were not reporting to her. She made recommendations and devised a lengthy report.
In the first year of her employment meetings were held every two months.
As a tribute to the employees' hard work the claimant set about organising a Christmas gathering. Because of the poor uptake from staff the gathering had to be cancelled. The claimant had no recollection of GT inviting her to his Team's Christmas lunch. Just before Christmas time a secretary working in the administration area informed the claimant that a Team Leader had arranged a lunch but that the claimant had not been invited. The claimant felt that this was a deliberate exclusion. A separate Christmas lunch was also organised by two Team Leaders and the claimant was again not invited. The claimant was really upset and went on Christmas holidays. No Team Leader had communicated with her about the Christmas lunch. She felt humiliated, very hurt and ostracised.
In early January 2013 the claimant wrote to the three team leaders expressing her disappointment at not being invited to the Christmas lunch. She suggested a social work service staff team Development Day and invited the Team Leaders. In that letter the claimant also said that she would be attending team meetings when the social workers were present on a quarterly basis throughout 2013. She did not believe the language used was intemperate. She wanted to put on record that she had been undermined in her efforts by exclusion of the whole service. She was facing a year of being isolated. The three Team Leaders did exclude the claimant from their Christmas lunches. The rationale behind writing the letter was that she wanted senior management to be aware and for it to be put on the record.
On one occasion a Parliamentary Question required a reply. A Team Leader investigated it but the claimant did not know about it and was not prepared to sign the document. The Team Leader was very angry. The claimant contacted FM about the matter. His understanding was that because the Team Leader had understood it and investigated the matter, he failed to see why the claimant did not believe it.
The three Team Leaders were all different individuals. There was obstructive resistance from GB throughout 2012. He was very selective in the issues he brought to the claimant. He brought significant issues to FM. Clinical risk issues were not discussed with the claimant. The claimant found GB to be so unreasonable and she believed he was autonomous before the claimant commenced employment and she tried very hard to work with him. SOC was quite appreciative that the claimant had been appointed. BT had said at one point that he would get the claimant's job.
GB one of the Team Leaders responded to the claimant's letter of 7 January 2013. He was deeply troubled and hurt and asked for an apology. He was totally appalled at the totally unfoundedallegations that were levelled at SOC, BT and himself in her letter. He said the claimant's allegations amounted to a character assassination, personal and professional of the three Team Leaders. A full apology in writing was required.
Subsequently, FM telephoned the claimant and told her of the need to be rest assured and that he was organising a meeting. The meeting was set down for 10th January 2013 but the evening before GB suggested it be would wise to cancel and it was subsequently cancelled.
FM spoke to the three Team Leaders separately and he asked the claimant to apologise or there would be a grievance raised against her. The claimant believed FM had been influenced by the three Team Leaders, had formed a judgment and he was not objective when he met the claimant.
The claimant drew up an incident log which covered the period from commencement of her employment to date which outlined violations of dignity at work. She felt social exclusion in the workplace at her being appointed as Principal Social Worker. She considered she was being bullied.
She met with DMcC, Area Manager on 31st January 2013 and had a general discussion surrounding her role profile and lines of reporting. She needed the Team Leaders support and expected their support in line with her job description.
On 3rd February 2013 the claimant emailed DMcC. She felt FM was struggling and she did not have any hope that she would get her position back on course. She felt bullied but understood that while mediation was a very important tool given the history so far she did not want to go down the road of mediation. She wanted senior management to contain the situation. She was constantly being told of the requirement to apologise. She needed management to address issues directly with the three Team Leaders.
In mid-February 2013 DMcC met with the three Team Leaders together. The three Team Leaders wanted the claimant to withdraw her letter of 7th January 2013 and make a full apology or they would take a grievance complaint against her. DMcC suggested mediation to resolving the ongoing issues but the claimant expressed her reservations about mediation. DMcC also indicated that he would ask FM to appoint a person from HR to deal with the grievances. The 3 Team Leaders continued to threaten the claimant with initiating a grievance complaint against her if she did not withdraw her letter and make a full apology.
The claimant wanted to find a solution and took advice. There was lack of co-operation from the Team Leaders. They stopped reporting to the claimant. She was led to believe that the Team Leaders agreed to mediation. At a later stage the claimant became aware that BT and GB would not take part in mediation until they received an apology from her. SOC realised that they should talk through this.
The claimant was due to have a management meeting with the 3 Team Leaders. She proposed to continue running the Adult Social Welfare Service to get monthly reports. Neither BT nor GBattended supervision while SOC had been in contact. GB was not in a position to furnish the claimant with supervision files due to lack of reasonable notice. His area was down 2 posts and he had to undertake extra work. He had given a commitment to have them with the claimant by the end of January but this had been overtaken by events of the claimant's making. He explained this to her in an email.
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