THE Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board caused unlawful harassment to a nurse suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, a tribunal has ruled.
That was one of the findings of an employment tribunal in a case brought by 50-year-old nursing sister Alison Hughes, who worked at the X-ray department of the Maelor Hospital.
In its judgement the tribunal said at one point Mrs Hughes had to face a degrading, intimidating and hostile atmosphere.
However a number of other claims by Mrs Hughes, of Coningsby Court, Wrexham have been dismissed. They include allegations involving unfavourable treatment and victimisation.
The health board says it is considering whether to appeal against the tribunal decision regarding harassment.
Speaking to the Leader about the case, Mrs Hughes said she felt she had been treated in a demeaning fashion at work.
She claims the pressure she had been under led to the recent breakdown of her 28-year marriage to husband Philip.
The couple have two adult children.
Mrs Hughes began working at the Maelor as a nurse in 1981. She became a nursing sister in 2002.
She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in December 2003 and continued to work as a sister, initially without needing any medication.
The tribunal judgement says that in 2005, heeding the advice of occupational health, it was agreed Mrs Hughes should be withdrawn from clinical duties.
She would still be a ‘band six’ radiology sister, but undertake non-clinical duties in the job description and develop other non-clinical tasks which would make use of her extensive nursing knowledge and experience.
“While this worked well initially, by December 2009 the claimant was not at all happy with her employment,” the judgement states.
“By August 2010 the situation was such that she handed a written document detailing her dissatisfaction and including allegations of bullying.
“On August 18, 2010 she was signed off work with stress and did not return to work prior to her dismissal at the end of 2012.”
In its conclusions the judgement says: “The tribunal is satisfied the claimant has received unwanted conduct, and this was related to her disability during the period February 2006 to July 11, 2011.”
The “unwanted conduct” included:
- A letter to consultants referring to Mrs Hughes’ health and deterioration in February 2006.
- The diminution of her non-clinical duties so that Mrs Hughes was left with manual work and very limited grade six appropriate tasks by August 2010.
- Mrs Hughes being referred to occupational health at points when her condition was improving.
The tribunal says it is satisfied the conduct had the effect of violating Mrs Hughes’ dignity and creating a degrading environment for her.
“We note the claimant’s perception of this conduct and find any employee in her circumstances would have felt distressed by this treatment. The claimant quite rightly felt demeaned,” the judgement continued.
“She (Mrs Hughes) was left with manual tasks and felt colleagues were watching her for signs of deterioration in her condition.
“Her feelings of harassment were compounded by errors that occurred in the grievance proceedings.
“When considering her return to work, she was faced with a number of colleagues having read her very sensitive personal evidence, them feeling aggrieved by the claimant’s comments.
“At this point she not only faced a degrading atmosphere; she also faced an intimidating and hostile atmosphere.”
The harassment was judged to be the combined effect of a number of employees’ actions.
Commenting on the outcome a spokesman for Betsi Cadwaladr said: “The health board was pleased to receive the tribunal’s judgement, in which all claims against individual members of staff were dismissed.
“The only aspect of the claim that was upheld was with regard to a number of actions which were judged to have caused unlawful harassment to Sister Hughes.
“However, even in these cases it was judged that the board’s actions did not have the intention of causing harassment.
“Tribunal findings on this point state ‘both the second respondent and other colleagues endeavoured to support the claimant from 2005 onwards’, and notes the measures taken to protect Sister Hughes’ terms and conditions and agreeing to requests for flexible working.
“The board is now considering whether it will accept or appeal against the tribunal decision regarding harassment.”
The tribunal judgement also states it is not possible to determine whether Mrs Hughes was fairly or unfairly dismissed until the health board’s internal appeal procedure has been concluded.
It says: “By January 11 the claimant and first respondent (Betsi Cadwaladr) are to confirm their availability to attend a hearing to consider the outstanding elements of the unfair dismissal claim and remedy in respect of the successful harassment claim and, if appropriate, the unfair dismissal claim.”