Q: Twice in three years I have been disciplined for poor record keeping. My recording was praised by my previous manager but workloads have been rising steadily and, although their quality remains good, they are occasionally behind. Colleagues are shocked because they know that other people are much worse at record-keeping than me. One white colleague thinks the manager is treating me differently because I am black. What should I do?
Roger Kline of Aspect trade union answers:
A: Good contemporaneous record keeping is an essential part of social work practice. Yet many social workers either get behind or allow their record keeping to fall below the standard expected.
Good record keeping is also one of the first casualties of rising workloads. If there are concerns about someone’s practice, justified or not, generally the first step managers will take is to do an audit of records.
That makes it essential for staff who do have concerns about workloads to raise those concerns in supervision and to place them on the record, in accordance with paragraph 3.4 of the General Social Care Council’s code of practice for social care workers which requires you to bring “to the attention of your employer or the appropriate authority resource or operational difficulties that might get in the way of the delivery of safe care”.
In my experience, however, it is not uncommon for black and minority ethnic staff to be treated differently to their white colleagues. Under their statutory equality duty, councils are required to keep statistics on discipline, grievances, access to training, recruitment, promotion and dismissal. In two recent cases I have been involved in, the council’s own statistics showed that the chances of black staff being disciplined were twice as high as white staff, and that once disciplined, the chances of black staff having much more serious punishment were high too.
Managers in both cases looked genuinely surprised when I showed this was so but in both cases they had not looked at the data and therefore had not drawn the conclusion that they needed to ask why this was happening and deal with the root causes so staff are treated fairly. Discrimination often takes place without any deliberate decision to discriminate.
If you feel you are being treated unfairly then you need to immediately ask such questions at the start of any disciplinary process, not at the end. No one should raise allegations of racism lightly and in my experience staff rarely do.
All employers have a statutory duty to ensure there is no discrimination and to remedy discrimination. Though some take their duty seriously, others certainly do not. It is not easy to win discrimination cases of any kind at Tribunals so trade unions have a duty to intervene early on, before discrimination takes place to insist that such data is made public and any patterns of discrimination are challenged before an individual has to do so.
So ask the questions or insist your union does. The answers may tell the story themselves. Either way you are entitled to fair treatment and your union must ensure that happens. Social work, of all professions, has no place for discrimination, unintended or otherwise.
Roger Kline is social care spokesperson for children’s services union Aspect
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