Cleaning up a real mess of a disciplinary process
Published 11 January 2023
When hospital worker Georgina dropped a tray of food and drink it left her facing an extraordinary disciplinary process in a fight to save her job.
The ward hostess, whose duties involved serving meals to patients, voiced an obscenity under her breath.
The female patient the food was intended for commented on Georgina’s clumsiness.
It was the dispute about what was said next, which left Georgina battling to save the job she had enjoyed doing for about eight years.
The patient claimed Georgina swore at her and made a racist comment.
Georgina categorically denied the allegation, said she dropped the tray by the bed, apologised and the patient was angry.
However, Georgina was told by her manager she would be suspended from work to allow an investigation to take place.
It was the start of a disciplinary process that would last for a remarkable 12 months. It was, however, during the pandemic.
As part of the disciplinary investigation process, Georgina was eventually invited to attend a virtual investigation meeting – three months after being suspended.
She admitted swearing after dropping the tray, was kneeling down at the time, did so quietly and insisted it was not directed at the patient.
The allegation put to Georgina was that she swore directly at the patient and made a comment that people of her nationality were always rude and ungrateful.
Shocked Georgina said it was untrue. She pointed out that a nurse, whose name she did not know, came to help clean up, heard the conversation and how rude the patient was.
Georgina waited patiently to learn what would happen next.
After a wait of three months she contacted HR. The advisor apologised, and said an investigation outcome would be provided by the start of the following week. Georgina did not receive it.
Georgina, frustrated by the protracted process, chased it up repeatedly.
She was still not provided with an update. After a month of feeling ignored Georgina thought it best to raise a grievance.
The grounds for grievance were that the unreasonable delay to the disciplinary process breached the ACAS Code of Practice.
The employer acknowledged the grievance, said it was related to the disciplinary process and it would be considered as part of it.
A month later, Georgina was notified to attend a virtual disciplinary hearing to face allegations of gross misconduct.
The hearing originally due to take place four weeks later, was cancelled by the employer as the person due to chair it was off work ill. It was rearranged, with a new chair, for a date eight weeks later.
Georgina contacted our Employee Support Centre for help with her case.
At the disciplinary hearing our representative focused on the evidence provided to support the allegation, which was an email from the patient, the delayed disciplinary process and detrimental impact of the protracted period of suspension.
The complaint email showed the patient had not been asked any questions in relation to her complaint.
Our representative said it showed the investigation was not thorough, the allegation was simply accepted as fact and it was never explored or questioned as it should have been given the seriousness of it.
The failure to interview the nurse who was nearby at the time, was also cited to demonstrate the flawed and unfair investigation process.
It was pointed out that although Georgina admitted swearing in frustration, it was not directed at the patient - and the limited evidence showed she did not hear it.
As the case was effectively the word of the patient against that of Georgina, our representative maintained that in such a situation she should be given the benefit of any doubt in accordance with employment law.
Details about Donna’s dedication to her work, character and exemplary disciplinary record and regret at being implicated in a matter that caused a patient to feel upset, were also provided to the hearing panel.
The outcome was very quick compared to how the rest of the process was conducted.
The hearing was adjourned for a decision to be made, and Georgina was cleared of the allegation after a break of 30 minutes.