Preaching what you practise


There was a case a few weeks ago, that hit the national newspapers – about a nurse, Caroline Petrie, who had been suspended because she offered to pray for patients she was visiting in the community.

She was able to return to work after some publicity and ultimately, while I can see where the awkwardness lay (as someone had actually made the complaint about her), it didn’t strike me as something particularly awful that she had done.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before,  but I feel a little detached from religion and hover between agnosticism and atheism myself,  with the proviso that I was brought up in a more religious setting and have every respect for people who find religion a comfort and a guide.

I’d go so far to say some of my best friends are religious!

Christian Bible, rosary, and crucifix.
Image via Wikipedia

So over the weekend, I came across this story or rather summary of a court case in HRZone – (no, I don’t frequent it regularly, but it’s amazing what a google search of ‘social worker’ can throw up sometimes!).

It’s an interesting case and surprisingly, comparing it to the attention that the case of Caroline Petrie received, one that seems to have flown completely under the radar of the national press.

It involves a Mr Chondol, a social worker in a CMHT in Liverpool. He was dismissed from his job for gross misconduct – the reasons being given were that

Liverpool believed that Mr Chondol had promoted Christianity to service users despite being told that it was inappropriate for a social worker to do so. Liverpool concluded that he had failed to follow a reasonable management instruction not to overtly promote his religious beliefs to service users. In particular, the concern was that in promoting his religious beliefs to service users, he could cause distress to someone who was already in a fragile mental state. He was dismissed for gross misconduct

It seems the difference in this case with Caroline Petrie (although the facts are not always  easy to glean) is that there was a more substantial objection to Chondol’s behaviour from the user of the services – as noted in the initial claim against him being that

He had attempted to promote his religious beliefs to a … service user, who complained about Mr Chondol “talking about God and church and crap like that”.

The other difference of reason for the gross misconduct was in relation to the service users that Chondol served, namely is it more inappropriate to discuss and promote religion in a mental  health service than in a physical health service?

For all that Chondol is a social worker, the situation would, I believe have been exactly the same had it been a CPN in that position, in the same trust.

So is the difference, the type of service group, the severity of the action or the objection made? Possibly a mixture of all of them.

Mr Chondol appealed against his dismissal and the case was heard and rejected by an Employment Tribunal. He claimed he was being discriminated on the grounds of his religion.

The EAT (Employment Appeal Tribunal)  decided that making a distinction between an employee’s religious beliefs, and the inappropriate promotion of those beliefs, was an entirely valid principle

Interesting that that has now been established as case law. So there was no question that the Trust in Liverpool were able to view Mr Chondol’s actions in promoting his Christian beliefs as misconduct and they had not discriminated against him as anyone promoting other beliefs would have been treated in the same manner.

Being instinctively curious by nature, the judgement given in this case was worth having a look through – not least because it covers a lot more more the detail and if you forgive the pun – a lot of the devil is in the detail..

The judgement certainly points to other factors being relevant in the dismissal for gross misconduct – namely that Chondol was not only dismissed on the grounds of promoting religious practice but also, and with more prominence,  on the grounds of ‘working outside hours without prior agreement/notice’.

Which might seem very tame until the boundaries between friend/patient/service user begin to blur which seems to have been the case here – especially when you consider that Chondol had taken a service user to his own home – hence the blurring. In fact, it was this issue that was raised as being the most serious incident which occurred (and, in my very humble opinion quite rightly).

I have to say I have worked with some extremely religious people over the years including excellent practitioners who are able to distinguish between work issues and personal issues with an expected professionalism. The issue is not having a religion or working with religion but preaching a religious line to those who have a right to receive a service without a sermon – and being aware as per professional codes of practice and working environments of the boundaries of behaviour.