An experienced social worker who downplayed racist and disrespectful comments towards colleagues as part of “the daily cut and thrust” of a busy social work environment has been sanctioned by the HCPC.
The social worker was found to have called a line manager an “Asian man without any manners” and told him he was “an Asian man…not raised to have manners or respect women, and in particular black women”, or words to that effect, during a row over late paperwork. A conduct committee found these comments both racist and disrespectful.
In a second “heated” incident she made several disrespectful comments to another manager. She called him “oppressive”, referred to him as “only an agency worker”, or words to that effect, and used “threatening behaviour” by pointing her finger at him.
She also asked that manager whether he saw himself as ‘Black’. During the argument she told him he reminded her of the colleague she’d described as “the Asian man”. The panel found this to be racist because it alluded “to race for purposes of critical comparison”.
The social worker also delayed acting on an email about a safeguarding concern and failed to record the concern on electronic systems despite repeated requests from a manager.
The incidents took place between December 2013 and May 2014 while the social worker was based with a hospital social work team.
‘Part of normal tensions’
In her defence, the social worker said the matters were “minor” and were “part of normal tensions and the daily cut and thrust of a busy environment”.
She told the panel that she was working in an unhealthy environment, where there was poor communication and she felt “under constant scrutiny and surveillance”. She also argued that the incidents were a “blip” in an otherwise unblemished career.
However, a conduct committee concluded her actions showed “a pattern of consistent, disrespectful behaviour and are well below the standards expected of an experienced practitioner”.
It found the social worker had breached a series of the HCPC’s standards of proficiency, including requirements to keep high standards of personal conduct, practise in a non-discriminatory manner and communicate properly with colleagues.
The failure to record the safeguarding concern was found to be misconduct.
The social worker will now face a conditions of practice order for the next 18 months, including a requirement to appoint a mentor to help address “deficiencies” in her conduct and communication.
The panel ruled a conditions of practice order was a fair sanction, as the social worker had since moved to a new role where she had been appraised very highly by a senior manager, and had also undertaken equality and diversity training.
‘Lack of insight’
The social worker had maintained throughout an initial hearing that witnesses, ex-colleagues and managers, had lied and “colluded” against her. The panel felt this was evidence she had not gained insight into her behaviour.
In a later hearing she apologised and expressed remorse for her actions but the panel said this “had only been acquired recently” and she had not understood that her actions were inappropriate beforehand.
The panel concluded a suspension would be a “disproportionate” sanction because there was sufficient evidence to suggest the likelihood of the social worker repeating the inappropriate behaviour was “very low”.
A suspension would also have meant the social worker’s employer, and service users, would have lost the services of “an experienced practitioner who is working satisfactorily in a specialist area”, the panel said. Sanctions were not meant to be a punishment, and a suspension would have been a punishment for the practitioner, who would have suffered financially, it added.
“The panel has therefore come to the decision that the registrant’s previous poor behaviour could be addressed adequately through the construction of personal conditions of practice aimed at developing the Registrant’s better understanding of her behaviour and its impact on others.”