A social worker who was “scapegoated” by his employers and wrongly blamed for the death of a man has won a claim for unfair dismissal.
Graham Hennis, 56, from Manchester, was fired after he was accused by his bosses at Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council of neglecting the man, only identified as GS, before his death.
The tribunal heard Mr Hennis was blamed - despite there being no signs that GS had suicidal tendencies - when he fell from a bridge in March 2013. At inquest a coroner recorded an open verdict.
Other care professionals, including a doctor, did not spot any mental health issues with GS in the five months he was in the community following his release from hospital. But when GS died Mr Hennis’ bosses sought to “hold the claimant responsible for everything that happened” to him.
The tribunal heard that father-of-three Mr Hennis had an “excessive number of cases” that was well above the limit the council set. Yet when he was being investigated over GS’ death they chose to ignore the fact “at every stage”.
The council had imposed limits of a maximum of 22 cases but he had 26. Despite his heavy workload Mr Hennis was willing to take on new and complex cases and showed he had a “conscientious and willing approach” to his job.
The judgment stated that the council’s investigation into GS’ death was “seriously flawed” as they started “with a mind-set that was predisposed to find the claimant guilty”.
The damning ruling said: “The investigations did not meet the standards of the reasonable employer in a case where the threshold for reasonableness needed to reflect the career-destroying implications for the claimant’s future.
“Both investigators approached the case with an eye on the claimant’s guilt and neither opened her mind to the possibility that the claimant might have done an acceptable job in challenging circumstances.
“Neither of the investigators was receptive to the information being provided to them by the claimant or his managers as to his workload or conscientiousness, or his otherwise satisfactory performance as a social worker.”
The ruling added that the council was “predisposed to believe the worst of the claimant”.
It went on: “This interpretation was all the more surprising against a backdrop of the pressures facing social workers in a climate of financial cutbacks and union concerns.”
Mr Hennis said he suffered severe anxiety as a result of his treatment.
He said: “I became a social worker as I wanted to help people. But the years of good work I had put in were simply ignored when GS died and I was wrongly accused of neglecting him before his death.
“I was trying to come to terms with his death when I was suspended and ostracised from my colleagues. The anxiety I experienced as a result was incredibly bad. I would watch the post man coming down the road and my anxiety would increase as he got closer to my door. If he came up my drive, or even worse delivered a letter from the council, the feeling of anxiety was horrific.
“Being suspended and scapegoated for GS’ death blighted my life. It was all encompassing and took over everything. I couldn’t relax and was unable to sleep. It has been a living nightmare and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.
“I want to thank my family, friends, my rep from the British Association of Social Workers and Sarah Evans from Slater and Gordon who have helped me through this ordeal. I am pleased with the tribunal’s findings and look forward to getting on with my life.”
Mr Hennis’ lawyer Sarah Evans, an employment law specialist from Slater and Gordon, said: “Mr Hennis had an unblemished record as a social worker yet he was wrongly accused of neglecting his client and then made a scapegoat for his death.
“It was difficult enough for Mr Hennis to deal with the death of a man in his care, but then he was suspended and cut off from his colleagues when he needed their support. The stress and anxiety he experienced as a result was extremely debilitating.
“His employer refused to listen to his side of the story and refused to acknowledge he had an extremely heavy caseload. Instead, as the judgment states, they sought to blame Mr Hennis.
“I am delighted that Mr Hennis has been vindicated by the tribunal and he can now move on from this terrible episode.”