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20 August 2015
Slater and Gordon Lawyer Sarah Evans won an unfair dismissal case for mental health social worker Graham Hennis. The judgment is one that every social worker facing disciplinary sanction or dismissal should be aware of.
Slater and Gordon Solicitor: Sarah Evans is an Employment Lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.
What happened: Mr Graham Hennis worked in the mental health team as a social worker for the Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council.
After the tragic death of one of his adult service users, Mr Hennis was scapegoated for the death by his employers who dismissed him. The adult service user had shown no previous signs of suicidal tendencies.
The handling of Mr Hennis’s dismissal was seriously flawed in a number of important respects. The Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council didn’t follow a fair procedure and the decision to dismiss him was not a reasonable response to the tragic situation. This made the decision to dismiss the social worker unfair in both substantive and procedural terms.
In making their decision to fire Mr Hennis, Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council were unwilling to keep an open mind about his conduct. This influenced their investigations and resulted in their decision to dismiss the social worker.
How Slater and Gordon helped: Slater and Gordon had to establish that the employer did not follow a reasonably fair procedure or that their decision to dismiss was outside the range of reasonable responses that were open to the employer. Throughout the case, Sarah challenged the unfair procedure, highlighted what the Council did wrong and gave them opportunity to correct.
Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council did nothing to correct their procedure for dismissing Mr Hennis. Slater and Gordon Lawyers battled for the social workers case from start to finish. Sarah successfully got an order for disclosure of documents that were being withheld, which we knew would prove that the appeal panel’s decision was tainted by the fact that he was suing them.
Outcome: The coroner’s inquest recorded an open verdict that highlighted departmental deficiencies that required attention. The deficiencies were not to do with Mr Hennis.
The Tribunal judgment found that Mr Hennis was given an “excessive number of cases” to work on that was well above the limit that had been set by the council.
The Tribunal also found that the appeal panel was “improperly influenced by the negative opinions of its HR and legal advisers”. The views of HR and the legal advisors were allowed to influence the appeal panel’s decision in a way that impaired its autonomy.
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