By Gordon Deegan
An unqualified social care worker, who was head-butted and punched by a female service user during a flashpoint over Internet use at a care home, has been sacked for initiating the physical altercation between the two.
In the case, the social care worker was sacked for gross misconduct after his employer, a health care provider, found that he had engaged in physical abuse of the female resident at a Co Laois care home last year.
The worker sued for unfair dismissal at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and WRC Adjudication Officer Catherine Byrne has dismissed his claim.
In his evidence, the care worker said that his relationship with the female resident was very good and that he had previously saved her life during a suicide attempt by her.
In her findings, however, Ms Byrne said that she was concerned that the worker “is not a qualified care-worker and he said that before he came to work for the respondent, he had no qualifications for the work he was employed to do”.
Ms Byrne said that the care worker "was also a vulnerable person".
On the incident, Ms Byrne said: “It is my view that the complainant reacted in this inappropriate way because he is not qualified to manage the highly charged situation in which he found himself.”
Ms Byrne said that there were failings by the employer in the case and “I find that the selection of the complainant for the job of social care worker without any qualifications or experience placed him at risk of dismissal”.
She said that there is no provision in the Unfair Dismissals Act to take account of the failings of the employer in this respect, “but I wish to place on the record my view that these failings contributed in some measure to the complainant’s dismissal”.
In the incident at the care home on March 6, 2017, the female resident lashed out after the social care worker said that she had exceeded her time online and could no longer have access to the Internet.
In response, the female kicked the social worker in the leg, shouted and broke a door handle and a handle to a cupboard.
Following the outburst, the female went into a corridor and attempted to prise a light switch cover from a wall.
However, while she was prising at the switch cover, the social worker approached her and pushed her.
In response, the female punched the social worker in the head and head-butted him as he fell on top of her. The care worker said that he was concussed as a result of the assault on him.
The resident was then restrained by the social worker and two male colleagues. and as a result of the incident, the social worker was out of work for a number of weeks.
Ms Byrne said that the behavioural support plan for the female resident describes “a tragic and chaotic life, regularly interspersed with attempts at suicide and self-harm and aggression towards her carers”.
Ms Byrne said that from a young age, the resident has been in a variety of care and from the evidence heard “she was regularly aggressive, displaying uncontrollable feelings of frustration and anger”.
An incident report was drawn up by staff and there was no reason to suspect from the report that the female service user had been assaulted.
However, it was only when the social worker made a formal complaint to the gardaí over being assaulted by the female resident that a chain of events was set off culminating in the man’s dismissal in June 2017.
The investigation involved the viewing of CCTV of the incident and in her findings, Mr Byrne pointed out that the social worker said that on three occasions during the disciplinary process that he would react in the same way again if confronted with the same set of circumstances.
Ms Byrne said: “It is my view that his inability to accept that there were any failings on his part was fundamental to the respondent’s decision to dismiss him. If he had accepted that he was wrong, a final written warning would have been the appropriate outcome.”
Ms Byrne said that the worker was paid an hourly rate of €12.11 and he got 15 or 16 hours of training in how to restrain service-users appropriately and that his other training came from reading documents and observing his colleagues.
The care worker said that he acted as he did on the day to protect the female resident. The man said that this intention was to move the female resident away from the wall socket.