A care worker who made an allegation of elder abuse by a male colleague at a care home suffered a whistleblower’s worst nightmare.
That is according to Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudication Officer, Janet Hughes who has found that the female worker was unfairly dismissed from her post after she made the protected disclosure.
In her findings, Ms Hughes said: “In many ways a whistleblower’s worst nightmare was played out in this case.” Ms Hughes stated that the worker “was effectively ostracised” at work and received no support, no protection and no concern for her welfare at any stage.
Upholding the woman's claim for 'constructive dismissal' under the Unfair Dismissal Acts, Ms Hughes said that it is “self-evident and certainly accepted that the worker had no option but to resign” in November 2018 as her employment relationship "had become increasingly untenable".
Ms Hughes stated that the whistleblower “was identified at every level as a problem rather than a member of staff who had raised matters of concern not only externally but internally and on more than one occasion”.
Ms Hughes made an award of €1,262 concerning the unfair dismissal claim as the care worker’s loss was minimal after she secured alternative employment just over two weeks after she was forced to quit her post in November 2018.
Ms Hughes stated that the €1,262 awarded reflects the limitations of the compensation available under the terms of the Unfair Dismissal Act.
Ms Hughes also found that it is a matter of fact that the complainant received no protection from her employer concerning the Protected Disclosure.
The care worker told the WRC that she was removed from Facebook and WhatsApp by colleagues after she was identified by her co-workers as the whistleblower.
The woman made an anonymous disclosure to the HSE on September 26, 2018, concerning a male member of staff being abusive to residents, lack of staff and lack of essential items.
However, the woman stated that she became identified as the whistleblower after her employer circulated a three-question ‘yes or no’ questionnaire among staff concerning the three issues raised by the worker.
The care home circulated the questionnaire after being notified by the HSE of the unidentified whistleblower's disclosure.
The whistleblower was the only worker to reply ‘yes’ to each question and after the survey was completed, she stated that she was treated differently by staff and management.
At a subsequent meeting with care home managers, the whistleblower named two employees who she believed abused residents.
One of the employees subsequently approached her asking her about the complaint she made against him.
The complainant said she felt isolated and stressed and went out sick certified as workplace stress on October 10, 2018, and did not return to work.
The care home appointed external investigators to investigate the worker’s three claims.
The woman questioned the impartiality of the investigators due to their connection with the care home managers and on November 19, 2018, the investigation found that the whistleblower’s grievances were not upheld.
The woman told the WRC that she felt that she could not return to the workplace after her grievances were not upheld and resigned from her post on November 21, 2018.
The woman told the WRC hearing that she was penalised or threatened with penalisation by her employer for having made a protected disclosure.
Ms Hughes stated that the treatment of the worker in response to her having the courage to raise her reasonable concerns “is exactly the type of treatment the Protected Disclosures Act was designed to encourage by providing at least a degree of protection when making a complaint and absolute protection against penalisation”.