Social worker’s comments about a service user to colleagues was misconduct, HCPC says

A conduct panel said the social worker referring to a service user as 'Mrs Fifty Shades of Grey' was misconduct

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Photo: Kieferpix/Fotolia

A social worker who was found to have attended work under the influence of alcohol, spoken inappropriately about service users and accepted a caution for battery without notifying the regulator has been suspended by the Health and Care Professions’ Council.

During the hearing, the panel found the social worker had referred to a service user as “Mrs Fifty Shades of Grey” in front of colleagues.

The panel said it was “unacceptable” to have referred to a service user in this way.

“It is common knowledge that ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a sexually explicit novel. By implication, use of this phrase has sexual connotations and may create a particular impression of the person referred to,” the panel said.

“Colleagues found this uncomfortable and unacceptable, as would service users and the wider public. It was a serious falling short of the standards expected of a social worker or any other professional or employee,” it added. This was misconduct, the panel said.

Another allegation that she had discussed the popular book and film franchise with a service user was found not proved.


The panel also heard evidence the social worker, who had previously stepped down from a manager position over sickness absences, had been under the influence of alcohol at work and failed to notify the HCPC over a caution for battery. It also said it had heard evidence to prove she had acted “inappropriately and/or erratically” around colleagues.

In deciding on the sanction, the panel said the risk of repetition was “high” because the social worker had failed to remediate her failings.

“There was a pattern of behaviour over time that was linked to the use of alcohol. At the time, the registrant denied that her use of alcohol was impacting on her practice. The panel has no information to say that this has changed. The impact of any repetition is potentially serious, with a risk of harm to service users and to the reputation of the profession,” the panel said.

In her favour, it said the social worker’s misconduct had happened over a “relatively short period of time”, and she was described as a “previously excellent” social worker.

It concluded a suspension order for six months was necessary.

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28 Responses to Social worker’s comments about a service user to colleagues was misconduct, HCPC says

  1. Terry Unicorn December 18, 2017 at 11:54 am #

    Social worker in ‘revealing themselves as human’ shocker.

    • SW December 19, 2017 at 12:45 am #

      So human that we turn to work intoxicated.. what happened to accountability and responsibility ?..

  2. Sabine December 18, 2017 at 12:05 pm #

    Should they not also have looked as to why she abused alcohol? Just to blame her is simply not good enough!

    • Askingpink December 18, 2017 at 10:20 pm #

      She can get therapeutic input around alcohol etc when when she’s not responsible for vulnerable service users, it’s not for the panel to delve into reasons behind any addiction

    • Tina thordal December 19, 2017 at 8:50 am #

      Agree! What support might she have been offered? Who knows why her behaviour might have changed – given previously she was known to be an excellent social worker. Maybe a bit of support and maybe time off could have prevented this outcome. It all seems a bit ‘one sided’.

  3. Maggie December 18, 2017 at 8:10 pm #

    She also needed support and to be treated az human.

  4. Alfred December 18, 2017 at 8:25 pm #

    Gosh with the black humour needed to keep social workers sane they had better suspend all of us.

  5. Bn December 18, 2017 at 8:43 pm #

    In social work if u fart u get the chop. Fakin laugh

  6. Hortense December 18, 2017 at 10:24 pm #

    Whilst the behaviour was inappropriate you do feel that the regulatory bodies show little understanding of the impact of the work on the individual’s ability to stay sane and coping . Makes you also wonder about the ability of her managers to empathise and support.

  7. Gege C. December 18, 2017 at 11:08 pm #

    Unjustified and over-reacted. If the social worker would have directly addressed the service user as she did during a drink with colleagues (an environment where the social worker should have surely felt safe and surrounded by fellow professionals btw….), maybe the decision could have been justifiable. But considering the circumstances and above all, the human nature of any professional (this is not the place for rhetoric so I will leave it like that), the HCPC’s decision definitely appears to be way too harsh and unsustained. Just some thoughts. Oh, and another meaning to it, any frustration between colleagues seem to be logically to be satisfied by simply ‘telling off’ drink talks that your naive and unsuspecting colleague-future-ex dares to share and you might find ‘inappropriate’. Or at least HCPC definitely shows it supports such resolves …..

  8. Faye December 19, 2017 at 1:36 am #

    Wow that’s the entire work force sacked then –

    • Challenging patient December 19, 2017 at 12:13 pm #

      The entire work force is turning up pissed?

      Community Care ought to investigate

  9. Caroline December 19, 2017 at 10:41 am #

    I worked with a male SW that spoke of his observation of me being Vanilla and asked if I had seen 50 shades of grey. I was mortified. When i complained it was ignored!!
    His comments around the office were offensive yet management ignored my concerns!

  10. Newbie December 19, 2017 at 12:42 pm #

    Seems disproportionate punishment, no mention of support just a telling off.

  11. Anon December 19, 2017 at 10:13 pm #

    I would love to know which Social Worker has never used black humour at one time or another. Being drunk at work and not sharing a caution for battery, absolutely they are concerning and needed dealing with, it’d be interesting to know if anyone explored these things with her, mind. We know stress can turn some to misuse drink/drugs, I wonder if there was any link? But, the main thing here being the use of black humour is utterly ridiculous.

  12. Jason M December 20, 2017 at 4:17 pm #

    I am worried by and disagree entirely with a description of a sexually derogatory insult as ‘black humour’. I’m rude sometimes, yes, I have a dark sense of humour at times, yes, but using insults is something else altogether. Being disrespectful to a service user runs contrary to what we are be here for and was rightly added on to the list of demeanours. Just because the person concerned did not hear it does not make it OK.

  13. Cyrnix December 21, 2017 at 9:20 pm #

    The nanny state having found the alleged offences, must now move on and past judgement on other poor workers.One of the many reasons why any qualified social worker, should consider their position within any pretty, bureaucratic state such as the public sector of employment.
    Black humour is the mainstay of child protection – perhaps the negative boards of inquiry should perhaps enter the world of hospice work, no funeral undertaking, as they regularly display the insight, abilities and real world perspective of Marie Antoinette. Oops I have left myself liable for criticism and referral for investigation of my attitudinal response to such a serious complaint.

  14. Newbie December 21, 2017 at 11:15 pm #

    I find the term ‘black humour’ quite derogatory. When do we move away from acceptance of such terms?

  15. Cyrnix December 22, 2017 at 1:18 am #

    The nanny state having found the alleged offences, must now move on and past judgement on other poor workers.One of the many reasons why any qualified social worker, should consider their position within any petty, bureaucratic state such as the public sector of employment.
    Black humour is the mainstay of child protection – perhaps the negative boards of inquiry should perhaps enter the world of hospice work, no funeral undertaking, as they regularly display the insight, abilities and real world perspective of Marie Antoinette. Oops I have left myself liable for criticism and referral for investigation of my attitudinal response to such a serious complaint.

  16. Mark December 22, 2017 at 10:46 am #

    Seriously very worried by a number of these comments.

  17. Sarah December 22, 2017 at 3:48 pm #

    Whether this was black humour or not and the arguments about whether this is acceptable should not be the main issue. ….what struck me is the focus on this and not the disclosure of battery and working under the influence. Talk about sexualising and sensationalising stories. As bad as the Sun or Mail

  18. Emma December 27, 2017 at 11:51 am #

    I read the HCPC hearing in full . It appeared to me that this lady had a long history of being a very good social worker. She clearly was having a difficult time and struggling. There was no evidence of her being intoxicated in work but she did smell of alcohol. She maybe was drinking too heavily out of work hours? All of the concerns raised seem to be of a person who was not well. I really feel the managers should have dealt with this themselves. They should have spoken to her about the concerns, given her some time off and given her a chance to rectify things. I feel this is an example of managers showing no empathy and being unable to manage properly. Referring to HCPC is a complete cop out. The poor social worker.

  19. DH January 1, 2018 at 12:36 am #

    I question what public good have these public revelations of cages of shame in HCPC profession have brought so far. I find it quite unethical and unnecessary.

  20. Julia January 3, 2018 at 4:48 pm #

    Some of the responses to this issue are really quite concerning. I wouldn’t turn up to work drunk, nor would I make sexually inappropriate inferences about those I work with. I would not batter anyone and if I had, surely would have some justification for doing so [can’t imagine what though], and I would declare it. If I felt that the stress of the job were affecting my actions, i would seek support for this, because that’s what i am required to do, as a registered professional. I would not behave in these ways and blame it on a job i trained for and chose. I accept that the job is very challenging at times and my response to this is to raise concerns and to support my colleagues. If this were not enough, I would approach staff care. if this were not enough, i would approach my GP and consider another job. Some of the comments above are not reflective of professionals. We can have a sense of humour without being offensive and irresponsible.

    • lucy January 6, 2018 at 10:16 am #


      I just had to reply to your very logical, practical, and articulate response where you seemed to have an answer for everything (and how you would never do anything wrong, nor be ever caught up in a complicated situation like this, unlike the rest of us), and it sounded like have never dealt with any problems in life, and your life is just so perfect and ordered.

      The tone of your email sounded patronising and very judgemental; all about how you would never ever do this, or do that (with you at the centre of everything, when life is not always about you).

      You mentioned why did the SW not seek staff care? In the 15 + years I have been around; I have never heard of such a thing, and every SW who has been around this industry for any length of time knows that self-care is one of the most neglected and overlooked issues in this field.

      The second issue is that SW (unlike you) may not wish to see their GP, especially as the HCPC askes for information for all registrants fitness to practise once every three years via a request for information. As the HCPC is becoming more punitive and punishing of SW each year, most SW do not want to put themselves in that position or take that chance.

      It is not so easy as you say for SW who are not coping to just ‘go out and get another job’, as they probably need to pay a mortgage and bills and TESCO wages are not that good.

      Also I thought it was quite rude for you to say she should just ‘go and get another job’ as that is not your right to dictate what somebody else should do with their life, and you overlooked the part where it said she had previously been an excellent SW.

      If all of us dissatisfied SW who care about our clients, but do not like the conditions we are forced to work under, went out and go another job (like you say); almost all the work force of SW would be gone (and you would be left to do all of the work).

      I wondered if you listened to how judgemental you sounded in your email, and how it strikes against the heart of SW, and what your colleagues would say about your attitude and level of support towards others.

      Good day to you.

  21. Ruksana Chowdhory January 3, 2018 at 5:29 pm #

    I think the title of the article is misleading… The SW was suspended for a number of reasons including attending work whilst under the influence of alcohol. It is possible she would have received a lighter sanction were it just one insulting comment made in isolation. And usually when SWs are reported to the HCPC by their employer, there is a myriad of reasons behind it, including falling out of favour. Just like in any profession, there are a few practitioners out there who do very questionable and unethical things when completely sober but they are never reported. I wonder why?

  22. lucy January 3, 2018 at 6:19 pm #

    What worries me about this case is why did it have to get to the HCPC? When her behaviour and emotions first started to ‘go off the rails’ and be ‘out of character’, why didn’t at the first sign something was amiss did not her ‘caring and compassionate’ Manager and colleagues not take her aside and ask her what was wrong, and offer her some leave? Clearly she was not coping, and where was the duty of her Manager to support and look out for other members of the team. We are all told we need to be ‘team players’, but at the first sign of trouble, we are ‘isolated, unsupported’ and hung out to dry. I would like to see the Manager and colleagues culpability also questioned in this!

  23. The Voice Of Reason January 4, 2018 at 2:20 pm #


    How I wish that there was a “sarcasm” key on the computer, so that everyone reading this could understand just how heavily laden with irony my choice of introductory word to this comment was!

    It surprises me very little to see a Social Worker being grilled in this manner (although I do believe that attending work whilst intoxicated is inappropriate, to say the least). My concern is that, had this behaviour come from a MANAGER, then there is every chance that it would have been completely overlooked. I have worked with managers who made offensive comments – both about service-users, and about other staff (including myself) – but who have thought this perfectly “normal” practice. I have also worked with colleagues (mostly long-serving and supposedly experienced) who have done the same. If you want examples of disgusting and insulting practice, go work in Blackpool!

    I worked there in a Hospital Discharge, then an Adult Community, Team. The following are quotes made by my manager and colleagues about service-users…

    1. “Don’t make work for yourself. You don’t need to bother recording unmet needs”. – comment made by manager in Hospital Discharge Team (erm… actually you are supposed to record unmet needs).

    2. “Oh, what are you fussing getting her care for. She’ll only stop it again. She’s not worth it” – comment made by senior Nurse colleague in Hospital Discharge Team (about a service-user who required care in order to be discharged. The service-user had cancelled a care package in the past. Should this be seen as not entitling her to care?).

    3. “What are you bothering investigating that for? All elderly patients are confused in hospital.” – comment made by same colleague as above (about a confused service-user whose confusion I investigated and who turned out to have an untreated urinary tract infection).

    4. “Yes, he clearly has mental health problems, but there is nothing I can do for him. I can’t take the case. He’s choosing to live like this”. – comment made by a worker in community mental health team who I asked to do a joint assessment with because a service-user was very vulnerable (made about a service-user who had untreated dementia, faced eviction, was a compulsive hoarder, and was clearly emaciated).

    5. “Are you like your mother?” – said to me by my manager in the Hospital Discharge Team after I returned to work following a chest infection (my mother is a service-user and has Bipolar Disorder).

    6. “Who do you think you are with your qualifications? You think you can just walk into promotion” – said to me by a colleague in the Hospital Discharge Team.

    I have also heard staff refusing to work with certain patients (a Nurse in the hospital refused to work with a patient who was known to have a criminal past), and speaking inappropriately to them, calling them things like “love”, “duck”, “mate”, “buddy”, “hen”… The inappropriate sexual banter between staff at the Hospital where I worked was beyond belief. Personally, I do not think it at all acceptable to call colleagues “darling” or “love” – obviously, Nurses and Doctors think differently! At one place where I worked, some of the staff even called me “Bambi”. Not at all sexist!!

    Personally, I feel that crass attitudes and behaviours like these tend to start with management, and cascade down. Or, they occur amongst staff because management are lax. Either way, it is for management to set the tone. This didn’t happen where I worked!