ADJUDICATION OFFICER RECOMMENDATION
Adjudication Reference: ADJ-00021304
Dispute Reference No.
Date of Receipt
Complaint seeking adjudication by the Workplace Relations Commission under section 13 of the Industrial Relations Act, 1969
Date of Adjudication Hearing: 28/06/2019
Workplace Relations Commission Adjudication Officer: Kevin Baneham
On the 16th April 2019, the worker referred a dispute pursuant to the Industrial Relations Act to the Workplace Relations Commission. The dispute was scheduled for adjudication on the 28th June 2019.
The worker attended the adjudication and was represented by David Field, Fórsa and was accompanied by the administrator. The employer did not attend the adjudication and did not object to it taking place.
In accordance with section 13 of the Industrial Relations Acts 1969following the referral of the dispute to me by the Director General, I inquired into the dispute and gave the parties an opportunity to be heard by me and to present to me any evidence relevant to the dispute.
The worker started her employment with the employer on the 19th June 2005 and was an employee at the time of the adjudication. She was paid €3,3331 per month. The worker outlines that she is being undermined and excluded by the employer.
Summary of Worker’s Case:
In submissions, the worker referred to her efforts and those of her trade union to engage with the employer. The worker referred to the report commissioned by the employer (set out below) but also of another report.
The union set out the following examples of poor treatment: the removal of the cheque book; the worker’s isolation from the board; the verbal warning; the worker’s lack of input in the Service Level Agreement and website; the dispute over the phone; now being asked to leave board meetings; the board dealing directly with part-time staff and her exclusion from dealing with the accountants.
The union asked for a guarantee that the employer would be fully behind the worker and to engage with her about her concerns. It asks that the worker be treated with dignity and respect. The union seeks compensation on her behalf.
The worker outlined that it is the employer’s coordinator and its only employee. She started working for the employer on the 19th July 2005. She said that the employer has undermined her and her work, including issuing her with a warning. This was for something the board asked her to do. This warning was shouted at her.
The worker outlined that the employer had two, old phones so she asked the board for new phones. This was to be addressed at the next board meeting. She outlined that there is a drip feed of taking away her responsibilities, for example the board has taken over the website and now dealt with emails. She was not now able to contribute to the annual reports.
The worker outlined that the duties taken off her are not now being done. This includes writing cheques, managing phones and emails. She outlined that the employer was required to report back to a statutory funder, per the Service Level Agreement. The employer applied for funding at the beginning of every year. The worker said that she no longer uploaded documents to the Charities Regulator. This was now done by the board.
The worker said that she feels invisible and ignored by the board. There are two TUS workers engaged by the employer. The worker said that the employer operated three social clubs and the board emailed to say that they were closing the clubs for two months. They had told the clubs that the worker was taking two months leave, which was untrue. They are vulnerable people and wanted the support.
The administrator attended the adjudication and provided a supportive statement on the worker’s behalf.
Summary of Employer’s Case:
The employer did not attend the hearing. On the 27th May 2019, a director emailed the Workplace Relations Commission. He submitted an independent review of the service. He submitted that there were changes needed to the service, based on the report.
The report sets out that it was commissioned in August 2017 to evaluate the employer’s services. It set out that the employer is a supported socialisation service for people with mental health difficulties referred through mental health services. Its aims are to reduce social isolation and to empower people to reintegrate into their communities. The report cites that it was important for social environments to provide opportunities for the individual to develop and exercise competency. The report identifies two strands of work undertaken by the employer: one-to-one befriending and social clubs.
The report assesses referral outcomes. It cites that one-third of male referrals say they are not interested in the service. The report sets out that one-to-one contact might be sporadic or too infrequent. In respect of the social clubs, the report records that some users refer to the service as a ‘lifesaver’. The report cites that information regarding contact with clients is kept on post-it notes. It states that it was very difficult to ascertain a full picture of the quality and quantity of engagements between volunteer and service user.
The report reviews the few volunteers who claim expenses and points to this leading to a ‘compromised position’ where there were a potentially high number of expenses due for repayment. The volunteer survey points to the need for greater support, but also to a high level of fulfilment. It recommends ongoing contact with referrers, for example nurses.
The report considers the role of staff. It states that the worker has a clear grasp of all aspects of the service, but that she would welcome additional support. The worker also raised the need for guidance and direction regarding her role. The report states that the coordinator should provide greater surveillance of the volunteers, but also that the board should provide the coordinator with adequate training and support.
The report states that the drive for the review was the board’s commitment to making evidence based decisions of the future direction of the service. The board wished to focus on a quality service for mental health recovery. The board questioned the format followed by the employer in offering individual and group based support. They sought to develop examples of best practice regarding the service. The report notes that the service began in 2005.
The report cites that the social clubs operated more as ‘closed groups’ with a limited range of chosen activities. The report finds that the employer operates ‘a restrictive socialisation programme, with respect to the group based activities, that is promoting outdated principles of mental illness by keeping groups of members together without offering pathways to empowerment, self discovery or community integration.’ The report notes that the social clubs do not stray beyond bingo, karaoke, cinema outings and coffee house gatherings. In respect of befriending, the report concludes that volunteers do not appreciate the long term commitment of the role.
The report sets out the referrers should state the health condition of clients, so that the employer can risk-assess assignments. The report refers to the ‘lack of contact by the coordinator’ meaning the employer was unaware of changes in circumstances of the client and the volunteer. There was a requirement of renewal of Garda vetting every three years.
The report makes ‘urgent and serious recommendations’. This includes ceasing one-to-one befriending because of ‘breaches of duty of care in managing volunteers who are engaging individuals with mental illness without professional support or supervision.’ It recommends that a mental health practitioner assist volunteers, in particular to allow volunteers to disengage. It proposes the safe and ethical restructuring of the social clubs to contribute to recovery. It recommends a review of the coordinator’s role and the provision of additional supports, although emphasises that she should be ‘monitored’. It recommends board renewal and against expansion of the service.
Findings and Conclusions:
The worker has worked as coordinator of the employer since 2005 and the start of the organisation. She is the only employee, but ordinarily manages two part-time administrators and large group of volunteers. The employer is operated by a board. Several directors have been on the board since the start.
The employer service is funded via the public purse. It must apply for funding every year and adhere to an SLA. No information is provided about the issues raised in this annual review process. The service receives referrals from local mental health services, including from nurses. There is, therefore, medical input in the referral of clients to the service. The service helps service users to socialise and integrate into society through the one-to-one service and the social clubs.
The worker outlines that she has been undermined by the board. She gave a cogent account of how she has been deprived of standing in the organisation. This includes the removal of tasks and the ability to represent the organisation, for example with the funder and the regulator. The board now seeks to manage staff directly. I appreciate that this was a very difficult situation and undermined her dignity at work. I find that there was no basis for the disciplinary warning issued to her and it was administered in an unacceptable way by being shouted at her.
The employer cites the need for change on the basis of the report described above. The striking thing about this report is that it speaks very little about the worker. While its conclusions are certainly critical of the coordinator as the leader of the service, the body of the report does not state why the worker should be ‘monitored’. I note that the report does not question the governance of the organisation, for example complying with the SLA, regulatory requirements or managing money. There are a handful of expense claims per year and no evidence that this will change. There is no criticism of how she manages staff. These are all the things the board removed from the worker and the report does not provide any justification for these actions.
The report makes dramatic recommendations: that the one-to-one service cease while the social clubs be reformed. The criticisms of the worker in the report are not justified and not supported by the body of the report. It does not account for the fact the clients are referred from local mental health services. No doubt the one to one service could be better resourced and better record interventions. A mechanism should allow volunteers to disengage. The worker was coordinating the service as best as resources allowed and asked for additional supports. This is supported by the administrator’s statement. The employer ought to have supported the worker in managing the one-to-one service, including if it was to implement the policy change of medically supervising the service. The social clubs provide regular opportunities to socialise for a cohort of people who required mental health support; the clubs are described as a ‘lifesaver’. The participants were empowered (as per the organisation’s mission) to choose their activities, which they did. There is no basis for criticising the worker in the operation of the social clubs.
It follows that the worker has been treated unfairly by the employer. This includes undermining her role and standing in the organisation, as well as her dignity at work. I find that the employer did not follow the disciplinary policy in administering the warning and the warning should be set aside and expunged from her record. I find that the criticisms of the worker in the report’s conclusions are not justified, nor supported by the report itself. I recommend that the worker be allowed fulfil her duties as coordinator in full, and afforded dignity at work.
Taking account of the effects of this on the worker, her longstanding and the fact that this is a charity, I recommend that the employer pay the worker compensation of €1,000.
Section 13 of the Industrial Relations Acts, 1969 requires that I make a recommendation in relation to the dispute.
I recommend that the worker be restored her full range of duties and tasks as coordinator of the organisation. I recommend that the employer fully respect the worker’s dignity at work. I recommend that any warning be expunged from her record. I recommend that the employer pay the worker compensation of €1,000.
Dated: 26th August 2020
Workplace Relations Commission Adjudication Officer: Kevin Baneham
Industrial Relations Act
Dignity at Work