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Working Class Whistler  

Working Class Whistler

  key informatioin contained in M

  Diary of a whistle-blower

 

    The nine month discrimination attack ended with the
            incapacitating workplace restriction on my                                                 prescribed footwear. 

 

The hospital footwear accepted by the Sandgate Dialysis Clinical Nurse (CN) prior to the receipt of a medical recommendation; following foot surgery:

 

Following advise from my surgeon of the need of four months leave to recover from foot surgery, I notified my boss at the Sandgate Dialysis Unit, CN Clench, that, as yet, I had not received an admission date but needed to arrange for some long service leave to recover.

CN Clench notified the Director of Nursing at the Keperra Hospital, Ms K Mason, who then notified the Human Resources at the Royal Brisbane Hospital (RBH):

I had the surgery in September 1997 and was due to return from leave in February 1998.

The catalyst behind the discrimination was the letter Ms Mason received from my doctor: 

 

All six staff members at Sandgate worked part time so, given the visiting nurse working my two shifts and the available spare shift was happy to remain at Sandgate, this letter should not have created a problem.

Ms Mason, whom I had never met, responded:

 

I asked Ms Mason to reconsider:

 

Worried Ms Mason hadn't received my letter I wrote again:

 

Following a medical check-up I advised Ms Mason of my progress:

 

The transfer was non-negotiable because it was agreed to by CN Clench and other administrators:

 

An appointment was arranged to meet with Ms Mason in November by the Queensland Nurses Union to discuss the free shift which had not been considered.

Given Ms Mason had said my leave dates would remain the same, from September 1997 to February 1998, I was startled to see she had changed my return date of February to 30 September 1998.

 

The Freedom of Information release of my 25 week leave application had been considerably altered:

 

The only avenue for further negotiation, when advised by the Nurses Union that Ms Mason had cancelled the long awaited appointment, was for me to submit a formal grievance to the Director of Nursing at the Royal Brisbane Hospital, Ms J W:

Ms JW faxed my grievance directly to Ms Mason on 29 January; confirming precisely when she became aware of my required footwear.

Ms JW responded, offering to hold a grievance meeting:

 

Whilst awaiting the meeting on 9 February I finally met Ms Mason for the first time when, without objection, she discussed my footwear.

During the meeting the 1/2km walk causing my difficulty accessing Keperra Hospital, and the spare shift at Sandgate were discussed; with no objections being raised against my footwear. 

Ms JW followed up with a letter:

 

 Freedom of Information later released the minutes of the meeting:

The availability of the free shift at Sandgate was confirmed by Ms Mason who agreed to get someone to work the other two shifts

It had taken three months to revoke the inapplicable reason for my transfer: The logistics of training another enrolled nurse for an employment option of only one six hour shift…”:

Having had six years experience at Sandgate I was surprised with Ms Mason's proposal of a six month trial. More concerning was her continued insistence that I must somehow access Keperra Hospital to update my clinical skills.


I  again requested she reconsider:

 

When Ms Mason phoned on 20 March advising I could update my clinical skills at Sandgate, she instructed me to make alternative footwear arrangements upon my return because, being sandals, my footwear contravened the Workplace Health and Safety (WPHS) guidelines.

Although she was aware of my footwear requirements she refused to explain why, at that particular point in time, they had suddenly become an issue; or why she hadn't objected during our earlier grievance meeting.

   

I emphasized my inability to work without them, a new pair having recently been made by the hospital following the foot surgery; assuring Ms Mason that CN Clench had allowed them for four years without any workplace incidents.


Ms Mason said she would advise the Department of WPHS of my incapacity without my footwear and would let me know the outcome. 

 

Two months passed when, devastatingly, Ms Mason notified me that I was required by the Department of WPHS to make alternative footwear arrangements:

 

When phoning Ms Mason on 2 June I tried to impress upon her how essential my footwear for me to be able to function, I knew the decision was out of her hands but I really needed her help.

She promised to negotiate with the Department of WPHS on the grounds of the incapacity caused by their requirement, and to let me know of the outcome.

On 11 June I asked Ms Mason to update me on her inquiries and advise if it was worth it for me to renew my due nurses registration, as my leave was due to end in 21 days on 30 June.


She said she couldn’t say but promised to continue her efforts to have the WPHS requirement reconsidered.  

I hoped for the best and renewed my registration the following day, 12 June:

 

Three long months had passed without resolving the insurmountable footwear hurdle. 

 

With  only eight days leave remaining, on 22 June I went to Sandgate to notify CN Clench of my resignation.


Ms Clench claimed to be unaware of the restriction when accepting my resignation; she phoned to advise Ms Mason at Keperra Hospital.


After speaking with CN Clench Ms Mason told me I should resign for the right reason, saying she needed time to contact WPHS. 

Extremely troubled because I was resigning due to the incapacity caused by the WPHS footwear restriction, she suggested I withhold my resignation to see if she could negotiate a waiver with WPHS. She would phone later in the day with an answer.

I was happy to sign a waiver disclaiming injuries to my feet, and did as she asked.

It was disturbing when she again stressed I should resign for the right and not wrong reason when, clearly, she knew I could not work without my prescribed footwear.

More distressing was CN Clench's tactless indifference when telling me I should not have withheld my resignation; that I should have resigned if that was my wish.

 

She was my boss whom I had always classed as a friend; now I felt extremely uncomfortable and uneasy in her presence. I explained it was not my wish to resign but to be physically able to return.

Ms Mason's later advice was that the waiver had not been negotiated with WPHS.


The following day I faxed my resignation directly to her, at Keperra Hospital:

 

Ms Mason remained agitated about my reason for resigning when phoning the following day, 24 June, to say things might be moving with WPHS. I discussed CN Clench’s apathy towards my resignation and footwear restriction which she had claimed to know nothing about.

Even though I suspected, I was shocked when Ms Mason told me the WPHS restriction was the result of an objection to my footwear which had come from Sandgate.

Everything became clear as I listened to the admission Ms Mason withheld in March when I had asked "why now?" 


I couldn't understand why Ms Mason had agreed with CN Clench to suddenly have my footwear restricted from the workplace, and felt too discouraged and depleted at that time to ask why.

The following day, 25 June, Ms Mason rang again saying she thought things might be moving with WPHS.


With only five days leave remaining I failed to see just how Ms Mason could finally get WPHS to revoke their restriction.


Ever more depleted I told Ms Mason that even if, at such a late stage, the restriction was revoked, her condition of a 6 month trial placed me in a very vulnerable position with CN Clench who, with her agreement, had sought to make it physically impossible for me to return. 

 

Ms Mason reiterated her deep concern for the wording on my resignation, saying I should resign for the right reason; adding she would send a letter once she received an answer from  WPHS.

She said she would let CN Clench know she was processing my resignation. 

 

On 27 June Ms Clench rang to check my resignation was final as she had not heard from Ms Mason.

 

On 29 June I received the foreshadowed letter from Ms Mason, dated 25 June, indicating WPHS had agreed to revoke their restriction and allow my required footwear, she added that my resignation had been processed:

I felt that everything was wrong with the way my footwear had suddenly become an issue and didn’t know what to expect when writing to the Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland (ADCQ), to explain what had taken place since my foot surgery.


On 1st July the ADCQ responded:

 

On Monday 6 July I received an unexpected WPHS report from Ms Mason authorizing my return to work with my required footwear:

 

Mr CG’s report regarded the waiver for which I withheld my resignation on 22 June 1998 but, curiously, failed to mention it's reason as a negotiation tool to have the footwear restriction lifted.

I couldn't understand Ms Mason's logic for sending the report almost two weeks after having processed my resignation.

Ms Mason posted the report to me on Friday 3 July:

 

The ADCQ  notified me they were unable to investigate:

Mr CG, the author of the WPHS report, was to later confirm that Ms Mason's letter to me, dated 25 May 1998, was erroneous. He told me WPHS would try to accommodate staff who require medical aids to work.

Ms Mason had not, as stated, made specific inquiries into my footwear requirements with the Department of WPHS, due to my disabilities, and had not received the stated requirement from the Department for me to make alternative footwear arrangements in the workplace.

With this additional information I submitted a further complaint of discrimination against Ms Mason and CN Clench, which was accepted as being unlawful.