A SOCIAL worker who suffered crippling anxiety when he was scapegoated by Oldham Council following the death of a man in his care has won a claim for unfair dismissal.
Graham Hennis (56) was fired after his bosses at Oldham Council accused him of neglecting the man, only identified as "GS". A tribunal now says the council’s investigation into the man’s death was "seriously flawed", and began "with a mindset predisposed to find the claimant guilty."
Oldham Council says it is disappointed with the result and believes it acted appropriately.
The tribunal heard Mr Hennis was blamed when GS fell from a bridge in March 2013. The man hadn’t exhibited any suicidal tendencies. A coroner had recorded an open verdict and no other care professionals had spotted any mental health issues with GS.
But when GS died, Mr Hennis’ bosses sought to "hold the claimant responsible for everything that happened" to him, the tribunal said. Father-of-three Mr Hennis also had a "excessive" workload well above the council’s limit.
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 ruling added: “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 their 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.”
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.
"Being suspended and scapegoated for GS’s 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 look forward to getting on with my life.”
Mr Hennis's 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."
In response, Councillor Jenny Harrison, Cabinet member for social care, said: “We note the judge’s ruling and are very disappointed with it. We remain convinced we acted appropriately.”
Date published: 03/08/2015
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