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HSE to make £20,000 compo payment to hospital attendant who made bullying complaint

The case only came before the Labour Court after the HSE appealed the WRC ruling and award

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Gordon Deegan

The Labour Court has ordered the HSE to pay €20,000 compensation to a multi-task hospital attendant after he was penalised for making a bullying complaint against a nurse colleague.

The €20,000 award against the HSE by the Labour Court to Noel Jennings doubles the €10,000 award made by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to Mr Jennings.

The case only came before the Labour Court after the HSE appealed the WRC ruling and award.

In the recommendation after hearing three days of evidence, Labour Court Deputy Chairman, Alan Haugh found that there is no escaping the conclusion that Mr Jennings would not have been relocated but for making his Dignity at Work complaint against a nurse colleague at Mayo University Hospital in July 2015.

Mr Haugh found that the claim of pensalisation is well founded and pointed to HSE commissioned occupational health reports which found that following Mr Jennings’s relocation “his mental health deteriorated significantly and he experienced considerable work-related stress”.

Mr Jennings told the hearing that his mental well-being was affected because of his belief that the decision to move him and to allow the alleged perpetrator to remain in situ created the impression that he had been guilty of misconduct towards the nurse in question.

In relation to a separate complaint by Mr Jennings, the Labour Court has recommended an additional payment of €10,000 to Mr Jennings for the inordinate delays in the HSE investigation process and the HSE’s failure to follow its own procedures and the consequent unfairness this caused to Mr Jennings.

This Industrial Relations Act complaint came before the Labour Court due to an appeal by the HSE of a separate WRC ruling in the case and the recommended award in a 10 fold increase on the €1,000 recommended award at the WRC.

Concerning the €20,000 penalisation award under the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act, Mr Jennings stated the HSE’s failure to investigate the substance of his complaints over a two-year period exacerbated his negative feelings and the deterioration in his psychological well-being.

Represented by Gilvarry and Associates Solicitors, Mr Jennings has worked as a multi-task attendant at Mayo University Hospital since 1997 and was made permanent in his post in 2001.

Mr Jennings was assigned to a ward at the hospital and early in 2015, he experienced a series of interpersonal difficulties with a staff nurse also assigned to the same ward.

Mr Jennings lodged his formal complaint concerning the nurse in July 2015 and alleged as part of that formal complaint that he had been the target of bullying behaviour by the nurse since late 2013.

At the Labour Court, the HSE argued that the relocation of Mr Jennings away from the ward was done in compliance with Mr Jennings’s written request not to be rostered alongside the nurse and was necessary to protect the legal and constitutional rights of the nurse pending the completion of its investigation of the allegations raised by Mr Jennings against her.

The HSE also submitted that the decision to relocate Mr Jennings and not the Nurse was also made for the purpose of good management and the efficient allocation of resources: the Nurse is a specialist and Mr Jennings is a generalist.

In his original statement grounding his complaint, Mr Jennings said that he complained about a work colleague who, he alleged, "has harassed and bullied me over a prolonged period of time”.

He further alleged: “The colleague in question has made my working conditions intolerable. An investigation was started, but never formally progressed and never concluded.”

He said: “During that period, I was rostered to different locations around Mayo University Hospital away from my previous working area where the said colleague was left in situ without any sanction or change to her working duties.”

He said: “I have been posted to various different tasks away from that area to avoid working with this person. In recent times, HR simply announced that they were now sending me back to my old position where I would have to work alongside the very colleague I had complained about.

Mr Jennings further alleged: “I cannot cope with the stress of doing so and my managers/employers are fully aware of this. Despite this, they have continued to roster me onto shifts working alongside the very colleague in respect of whom an un-concluded investigation was carried out and in respect of whom very serious allegations were made.”

Mr Jennings argued: “It is clear to me that I have been penalised and moved around to suit the needs of the colleague who remains without sanction and without any disciplinary action being taken.

He said: “It is grossly unfair and has now been compounded by rostering me back with this colleague without resolving the complaint.

He added: “I cannot cope with the stress of that and have been compelled to go on sick leave on the days when I am rostered with this colleague.

He said: “Over the course of the last couple of years, as a direct result of this penalisation, I have directly lost out on my Sunday shifts which would have been normal during my usual posting… Since my complaint, I was moved off this ward and moved around to different shifts and have lost substantial income as a result.”

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