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Rules May Be Rules but Blanket Policies Are Unwise

Some forms of misconduct may appear so serious that dismissal is the only option. However, one case in which a hospital radiographer was sacked for mishandling confidential patient information showed that blanket policies are rarely a good idea and that room should be left for considering each case on its own facts.

The woman had used confidential information in compiling her defence to a disciplinary charge. The manager who summarily dismissed her took the view that she had shown a complete disregard for the importance of patient confidentiality and that, regardless of any extenuating circumstances, ‘a breach is a breach’. Her internal appeal against that decision was subsequently rejected.

In upholding her unfair dismissal claim, an Employment Tribunal (ET) noted that she had felt isolated at the time and was unaware that, by taking steps to defend herself, she was breaching patient confidentiality. By his rigid adherence to the rules, the manager had placed himself in a straitjacket and the appeal procedure had been wholly inadequate.

In rejecting the employer’s challenge to that ruling, the Employment Appeal Tribunal could find no fault in the ET’s conclusion that that the woman’s dismissal fell outside the band of reasonable responses to her misconduct. Other issues in the case, including as to whether the dismissal was also wrongful and whether there had been any contributory fault on the woman’s part, were sent back to the same ET for further consideration.