13 Nov 2015

Bullied social worker awarded $14,000

9:09 pm on 13 November 2015

A Christchurch social worker whose boss told her she was shaming the profession has been awarded more than $14,000.

Canterbury District Health Board logo

Canterbury District Health Board logo Photo: Supplied/Canterbury DHB

The Canterbury District Health Board must pay the amount to Mary-Anne Beckingsale, who said she was subjected to "16 months of systematic targeting, bullying and undermining".

The DHB didn't address or investigate her complaints, she said.

An investigation by the Employment Relations Authority uncovered a "legacy of problematic behaviour" within the women's social work team.

The problem stems to the appointment of Kerry Burroughs as team leader in 2010, two years after she worked at Christchurch Women's Hospital as a student on placement.

The appointment proved unpopular with staff, many of whom believed she was too inexperienced to be in that position.

Almost immediately, Ms Burroughs oversaw a restructure which changed the roles of all the social workers.

During that period her relationship with some in the team, including Ms Beckingsale, rapidly deteriorated.

Ms Beckingsale applied for annual leave and was told that because she was a casual worker, she was not guaranteed any minimum hours of work and should not be accumulating paid annual leave.

Ms Beckingsale's key to the staff office was taken off her when she was told too many people had one.

She told Ms Burroughs she was on a "power trip" and should "watch out".

"You are destroying a very solid and good team of social workers and I will not watch people I have a huge respect for, myself included, be demoralised," Ms Beckingsale wrote in an email.

When Ms Beckingsale threatened to resign, the two women had a confrontation in Ms Burroughs' office which almost turned physical.

She accused Ms Burroughs of humiliating, bullying and shouting at her and other staff.

Ms Beckingsale was also accused of "shoulder butting" another member of staff in a hallway.

They were subsequently separated when Ms Beckingsale was moved to work in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit.

In December 2011, Ms Beckingsale reported she had been verbally insulted and intimidated by Ms Burroughs in a corridor.

Ms Burroughs had told her "what are you going to do to shame yourself today?," she said.

Ms Burroughs denied she said those words, but did say: "You call yourself a social worker? Shame on you."

In August 2012, Ms Beckingsale requested that Ms Burroughs not undertake a scheduled performance review.

"I do not feel it would be an impartial or professional process if I was to undertake this with yourself based on your past treatment of me and the lengths you have gone to discredit me," she wrote.

The review was dropped.

Ms Beckingsale resigned in January 2013, after more than 10 years in the role.

In its finding, the Employment Relations Authority said Ms Burroughs had a "dogged approach to management".

It said she failed to address a legacy of problematic behaviour within the women's social health team.

The authority said she did her best in the role, but was "inexperienced in a management role and ill-equipped to deal with staff members who did not agree with her".

It found the DHB did not follow its own policy and investigate some of the incidents, and when Ms Beckingsale went on leave for stress and ill health, it didn't provide her enough support.

It said the DHB failed both women.

The DHB was ordered to pay Ms Beckingsale lost wages of $3991, plus holiday pay and Kiwisaver contributions, as well as $10,000 compensation for humiliation and loss of dignity.