Hospital worker sacked after calling nurse ‘a cow’ awarded €12,000

Employment Appeals Tribunal made award after finding manner of dismissal by Galway Clinic unfair

An operating theatre worker at one of the country’s largest private hospitals was sacked after calling a nurse ‘a cow’ and for an alleged verbal attack on her manager.

Dolores Malone sued for unfair dismissal by the Galway Clinic and the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) has now awarded her €12,000.

The tribunal made the award after finding the manner in which Ms Malone’s dismissal was effected was unfair.

However, it also found Ms Malone — who worked as an operating department practitioner — contributed substantially to her own dismissal.

At a hearing in Galway held over two days, Ms Malone claimed that the sanction of dismissal was disproportionate for what she had done.

A colleague of Ms Malone’s made a formal complaint against her in October 2013 alleging aggressive behaviour by Ms Malone on at least three occasions and making accusations of bullying.

When confronted by the Director of Nursing about the accusations, Ms Malone admitted calling her colleague ‘a cow’ and ‘dishonest’ but felt she herself was being singled out.

After an investigation, Ms Malone was issued with a written warning and she was told that any further breach would result in further action, up to and including dismissal.

In the second incident in December 2013, Ms Malone approached her manager and requested copies of all theatre rosters from 2010.

Her manager told her that she would have to put the request in writing and in response, Ms Malone became loud, aggressive and angry. The manager lodged a formal complaint and the hospital launched an investigation.

Four people, who were in the vicinity, were interviewed and provided their accounts of what had occurred. A human resources specialist believed there was merit in the allegation that Ms Malone was aggressive towards her manager.

At a disciplinary meeting in February 2014, other members of staff complained about Ms Malone and her behaviour towards them in theatre. The hospital suspended Ms Malone who thereafter went on sick leave.

Ms Malone returned from sick leave and the HR specialist met Ms Malone on numerous occasions and interviewed other people who made statements against her.

According to the EAT report, those people were not prepared to put themselves before Ms Malone at any meeting and the specialist said they probably felt intimidated by Ms Malone - one was on sick leave because of the situation.

Ms Malone was dismissed in May 2014.

At the EAT hearing, the head of human resources at the Galway Clinic said issues with Ms Malone initially arose in 2010, when he received a letter from a consultant expressing his concerns about Ms Malone’s attitude/behaviour.

In her defence, Ms Malone denied speaking to her manager in a loud, aggressive and angry manner when approaching her about rosters.

In its ruling, the tribunal found that the grievance procedure adopted by the Galway Clinic “was flawed in its failure to live up to the rules of natural justice”.

The three person tribunal stated that prior to the disciplinary hearing of May 20th 2014, leading to Ms Malone’s dismissal, Ms Malone, despite her requests, was not provided with copies of witness statements in relation to the incident of October 1st 2013.

The tribunal also recorded that witness statements in relation to the incident of December 16th 2013 were not furnished to Ms Malone until the day before the disciplinary hearing.

Furthermore, at that disciplinary hearing, Ms Malone was not allowed to cross examine the witnesses.“By reason of the foregoing, the tribunal finds the matter in which the dismissal was effected was unfair.”

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan is a contributor to The Irish Times