Probation service employee fairly dismissed for failing to disclose child protection issue
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held in Q v Secretary of State for Justice that a Probation Officer was fairly dismissed for failing to keep her employer fully informed about her ongoing dealings with social services in relation to a risk that she allegedly presented to her daughter.
Q had been employed as a Probation Officer since 1994. In 2014 there was an incident at her home involving her and her teenage daughter. It was alleged that she had been violent towards her daughter and social services became involved. Q's daughter was placed on the Child Protection Register (CPR), and Q was advised to tell her employer about the incident, given the safeguarding implications for her job. Q failed to do so, so social services raised it direct with the Probation Service and Q was found to have committed gross misconduct and given a final written warning.
In 2015 there was an altercation between Q and her daughter which led to a visit from a police officer and a social worker. Although Q told her employer about this, she failed to mention that her daughter had been placed under another Child Protection Plan (CPP). When the Probation Service discovered this (Q had been advised that she needed to keep her employer informed of any developments regarding her interactions with social services or other partner agencies), further disciplinary proceedings were instituted and Q was dismissed for failing to inform the Service of the CPP and the consequent reputational issues for the Service.
The tribunal found that it was reasonable for the Probation Service to dismiss Q as she already had a final written warning. It noted that as the Probation Service is part of the criminal justice system it has higher expectations of its employees' conduct than other employers. It also took Q's right to a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into account. Although it accepted that Article 8 was engaged it concluded that Q's dismissal was a proportionate interference with that right. The EAT agreed, holding that Q was required to provide information about her interactions with social services as part of her express and implied duties as an employee. The purpose of the Probation Service's requirement to have this information was to safeguard the effective discharge of its functions, in particular by safeguarding its reputation and relations with local authorities and social services, which was a legitimate objective. In addition, Q's decision to ignore the previous final written warning raised concerns about her professional judgment that could undermine public confidence in the Probation Service.
Take note: The decision in Q shows that an employee who has failed to take note of a previous disciplinary warning will find it hard to challenge a dismissal. As far as the interference with ECHR rights is concerned, the tribunal must come to its own view as to whether or not the dismissal involves a disproportionate and unjustified interference with these rights. Here the Probation Service's relationship with partner agencies was important and it had a legitimate concern that its reputation could be damaged by Q's behaviour.