A recent UK Court of Appeal case has provided helpful clarification on an employer’s duty to think carefully before suspending an employee or referring matters to the police. It also highlights the importance of acting ‘reasonably’ in disciplinary cases where the consequences for an employee’s career could be at stake. Although UK case law is not binding on the Isle of Man, UK case law is highly persuasive.
In Crawford v Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust , the claimants were two nurses, each with some 20 years of service, who had been employed to care for patients in hospital suffering from depression, anxiety and dementia. A staff nurse alleged that she had seen the claimants inappropriately restrain an aggressive and agitated 87-year-old dementia patient by tying a chair to a table and then tying the patient to the chair using a sheet. The respondent, NHS Trust, decided to suspend the claimants immediately for alleged assault of a patient pending an investigation.
The NHS Trust commenced a disciplinary investigation and shortly thereafter informed the police of the alleged assault. The police determined that there was no criminal case to answer and the Trust continued with its internal disciplinary process. The claimants denied that the patient had been tied to the chair and explained that the chair had been secured to prevent him from falling out and a sheet had been wrapped around him to make him feel relaxed as if he was in bed. The patient had been attached to a drip, which required him to remain at rest and the nurses claimed that they wanted to keep the patient safe, as well as the other 16 patients whom they were looking after.
In reaching a decision, the NHS Trust conducted an experiment without informing the claimants to test the truth of their explanation that they had wrapped a sheet around the patient to make him feel as if he was in bed. The Trust found that this was not a credible explanation and that the form of restraint had been inappropriate. It accepted the account of the staff nurse over the claimants and two other healthcare workers. In addition, it found that the claimants did not report the incident or make any attempt to release the patient, thereby putting his dignity, respect and safety at risk.
The Trust concluded that this behaviour amounted to gross professional and negligent misconduct and decided to summarily dismiss the claimants. The claimants appealed by way of a review (rather than a re-hearing) and were ultimately dismissed.
Download the full article here: Suspension should not be automatic