A social worker who was dismissed from his job for gross misconduct after he told a ‘vulnerable’ care user she was ‘fat’ will receive €6,000 in compensation from his former employer, following a ruling by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
he worker was unfairly dismissed by the care services provider arising from an incident on May 29 last year where the female service user alleged the social worker told her: “I am not trying to be funny, but you are fat.”
The service user stated the comment made her feel sad. In her findings, WRC adjudication officer Maria Kelly found the worker did something he should not have done.
She said: “His comments were inappropriate and caused a vulnerable service user to become upset. The complainant could not provide any valid reason for his actions.”
She said that the worker acknowledged the service user could have reacted to his comments by self-harming or absconding.
Ms Kelly said what occurred “was a very serious error that caused great upset to the service user”.
The employer dismissed the worker in July 2019 after concluding that “you caused the service user unnecessary distress and you did not deliver effective care, failing to ensure her welfare”.
The employer told Ms Kelly at the hearing that the actions of the worker “irreparably damaged the company’s trust and confidence in him and rendered the continuation of the employment relationship impossible, therefore justifying dismissal”.
The employer stated that the gravity of the worker’s actions “are even more significant when considered in tandem with the vulnerability and status of the service user concerned”.
However, Ms Kelly found the dismissal was unfair after concluding that the decision maker did not consider any alternative penalty to dismissal.
Ms Kelly said: “The decision to dismiss did not take account of all the circumstances. The decision to dismiss cannot be regarded as coming within the range of reasonable responses of a reasonable employer as alternatives to dismissal were not considered.”
Ms Kelly said she was also satisfied that the worker contributed significantly to his own dismissal.
In the case, the employer told the WRC the service user’s version of the incident was supported by statements from other members of staff who had been present.
The employer – which employs 1,500 people, including 1,300 frontline workers – provides residential care and day services to adults and children with complex support requirements. They stated the employee did admit using the ‘fat’ word during the incident.
He acknowledged that the use of the word was not appropriate but said the comment was intended as a joke.
At the WRC hearing into his claim of unfair dismissal, the worker said he made the ‘fat’ remark without thinking,
He said he instantly regretted this lack of judgment and apologised.
He described the service user in question as someone who would usually be involved in banter.
The worker told the WRC that the one-off incident did not warrant dismissal on the grounds of gross misconduct.
He said he was willing to retrain if that option had been made available to him, but it was not. He said lesser disciplinary sanctions were passed over.
The social worker started his employment with the care services provider in 2016 and he told the WRC that he commenced a new post with a different employer in January 2020, at a higher hourly rate, on a relief panel.
Source: Irish News