More often than we perhaps realise, it's the case that what is portrayed in a television programme is a reflection of a “real” HR situation.This is currently the case with the popular Saturday evening hospital drama Casualty.
Background to the storyline
For those of you who are not familiar with the storyline, “Big Mac” one of the healthcare assistants is addicted to the painkiller Tramadol. His addiction is affecting his performance at work – remember he works in a Hospital’s A&E department. Separately he has stolen drugs from the A&E pharmacy and from a patient’s handbag.
Senior Staff Nurse Charlie Fairhead is aware of “Big Mac’s” addiction and his actions of theft. Rather than advising the Clinical Nurse Manager of the situation he has, he would say for the best of intentions, chosen to help “Big Mac” himself. This has included hiding the patients stolen Tramadol in his locker. The tablets have now been discovered and Charlie has been suspended pending an investigation.
The HR implications of Charlies actions
Putting aside for one minute the fact that it's a television programme, what are the HR issues to consider here?
So far Charlie has not explained the reasons for his actions so in the absence of any other explanation the hospital authorities would have a “reasonable management belief” that he stole the drugs himself and he would likely be summarily dismissed.
But what if during the ensuing investigation it comes to light that Charlie was in fact helping a colleague?
Investigate before reaching a conclusion
One must always focus solely on the facts when dealing with a situation that might have disciplinary consequences, and put emotion and best intent to one side. These can be considered later as mitigating factors when considering a disciplinary sanction.
Charlie having discovered a theft of drugs has not only failed to report this, he has actively sought to conceal “Big Mac’s” actions and his addiction. In this later respect Charlie has potentially endangered the health and safety (and ultimately the lives) of patients and failed in the duty of care he owes his colleagues, the hospital and the patients.
Whilst not “Big Mac’s” line manager, Charlie is a long standing Senior Charge Nurse who it is reasonable to imagine would have been aware of the appropriate actions he should have taken. In mitigation for his actions he would say that he had “Big Mac’s” interests at heart and was doing what he thought best to help a colleague. But he was wrong.
The disciplinary options to consider
Charlie has committed a serious act of misconduct. One of the key questions the hospital must ask is do we have “trust and confidence” in Charlie continuing in his role? The answer must be no.
In which case, what disciplinary sanctions are reasonable for the hospital to consider?
The first one must be dismissal be it for gross misconduct or misconduct. In broad terms the difference between these two types of misconduct centres on the consciousness of the action; here it was deliberate so dismissal would be summary and without notice pay.
The other option is a final written warning and a period of retraining for Charlie. The mitigation he would offer that would prevent him from being dismissed would be his (misguided) intentions in trying to help a colleague and his length of service, he's been in Casualty sine the first series.
In a real life HR situation, I would dismiss.
Footnote As it’s a television programme I thought it most likely that Charlie would not be dismissed but probably face a disciplinary sanction, may be not even a final written warning. In fact, no action was taken and Charlie recently celebrated 30 years in Casualty.