A disability support worker who was sacked for putting a patient under a freezing cold shower to wake him up has lost his claim for unfair dismissal.
The worker was also accused of being physically rough with another patient, and force feeding another.
The Fair Work Commission found the worker was not truthful when giving evidence, and ruled that his termination was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable.
Lansana Dolley had been employed at an Anglicare facility at Elizabeth South in Adelaide since November 2015.
He is 27 years-old and had trained to become a disability support worker at university.
His role at the Anglicare home involved providing care to a number of patients who suffered from a range of disabilities.
The feeding incident
In March 2018, a co-worker said she observed Dolley trying to shove Wheet-Bix into a patient’s mouth.
The witness said she saw Dolley slap the patient’s hand away from his mouth on three occasions when he was trying to feed him the food.
Mr Dolley later denied he had tried to force feed the patient and denied slapping his wrist.
The van incident
In April 2018, Dolley was sent to pick up a severely autistic patient from a disability day care facility.
Two staff from the facility reported witnessing Dolley grabbing the patient by the arm and pulling him to the ground, before pulling him back up and violently yanking him towards the van.
The staff members also said Dolley was yelling at the patient to get up and get in the van.
Again, Dolley gave a completely different version of events, and said the patient was sitting quietly on the ground and wanted something to eat.
Dolley claimed that after he gave the patient an apple, he walked calmly and got into the van.
The shower incident
The incident that Dolley was fired for happened on the 23rd of August 2018, and was witnessed by Ms Jamie Pollard, a student on work placement.
Ms Pollard said that she was with Dolley when he tried to wake a patient who was asleep in his bed.
When the patient didn’t get up, Dolley grabbed his wrist and yanked him out of bed and into the bathroom.
In the bathroom, Mr Dolley undressed him and placed him under a cold shower.
The water was so cold that the patient screamed.
Dolley said to Ms Pollard that he always puts that patient under a cold water to wake him up for the day – and then laughed about it.
But that wasn’t the end of it.
Ms Pollard said that after the shower, Dolley walked the patient back to his room without a towel, sat him on his clothes, which were on the bed.
When Dolley saw this, he raised his voice at the patient for sitting on the clothes while still wet.
Ms Pollard was concerned about what she saw, but did not report same until she spoke to other work placement students six days later.
Once again, Dolley denied the version of events described by the witness.
He claimed Ms Pollard was not even present during the incident, and maintained that the patient was already awake when he entered the room, and came to the shower without hesitation, and that the water was set at the appropriate temperature.
Dolley was suspended while the incident was investigated, and subsequently sacked.
What the Commission found
Commissioner Christopher Platt was clearly not impressed by Dolley as a witness.
He said there were a number of inconsistencies with his evidence, and that his version of events in each incident were “polar opposites” of the witness accounts.
He found that Dolley did not answer questions truthfully regarding the shower incident, and that his conduct was “a breach of the terms of his employment obligations”.
“I accept, that these prior incidents are relevant to establish a course of conduct, which suggests that the shower incident occurred and are relevant as to the appropriateness of the dismissal,” Commissioner Platt wrote.
“I find that Mr Dolley’s conduct in relation to the shower incident and his failure to truthfully answer questions in the investigation are valid reasons for the dismissal.
“Having considered all of the material before me and each of the factors contained in section 387 of the Act, I have concluded that the termination of Mr Dolley’s employment was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable.”
The bottom line
George Calderon, lawyer and seconded consultant at Industrial Relations Claims, said he was appalled by Mr Dolley’s conduct.
“Some of the most vulnerable people in our community are those with disabilities who need full time care,” he said.
“For someone to mistreat these people is inexcusable, particularly those who are charged with caring for them.
“Even though Mr Dolley was sacked for the shower incident, it would appear there was a pattern of conduct leading up to it which strongly suggests he does not have the right temperament to be working in this field.”
Mr Calderon said the Fair Work Commission is now taking a dim view of unfair dismissal applications that involve the mistreatment of elderly or disabled people in care.
He pointed to the current Inquiry into the Quality of Care in Residential Aged Care Facilities in Australia which has raised a number of issues in the sector.
“I am not surprised Mr Dolley’s conduct was considered a breach of his employment contract, and I am not surprised his application for unfair dismissal was rejected by the Commission,” Mr Calderon said.
READ MORE: What is unfair dismissal
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If you have been unfairly dismissed from employment, you may be entitled to reinstatement or compensation.
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