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NHS office staff threatened with disciplinary action 'deserve apology', says union

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NHS Highland logo sign.
NHS Highland logo sign.

NHS Highland office staff threatened with disciplinary action if they refuse to go into work deserve an apology, it has been claimed.

Earlier this week a member of staff spoke out after HR director Fiona Hogg told them and colleagues they could not work from home, and should feel fortunate to still have jobs.

Ms Hogg also said she “would not hesitate” to ask managers to take disciplinary action if staff defied her instructions..

Some 120 people work in HR, health and safety and occupational health functions, ordinarily at locations including Assynt House, Larch House and Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, but staff have argued these jobs can be carried out from home.

Last year NHS Highland was the subject of an inquiry by John Sturrock QC into allegations of widespread bullying.

Gavin Smith, GMB union lead for NHS Highland, called Ms Hogg’s email “appalling” and branded it “a thinly-veiled threat” to staff.

Now the health board’s former communications chief Brian Devlin, who worked closely with the whistle-blowers who first brought the bullying allegations to public attention, has called for an apology to be issued.

“My main concern is how this has been communicated and the adversarial tone that has been used,” he said.

“It puts me on high alert that inappropriate language is once again being voiced from around the NHS board table. I think an apology by the HR director should be issued and the staff listened to and thanked for all that they do, especially in this time of pandemic.”

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie was also angered by the tone of the message.

“I read and reread the missive sent to NHS Highland staff with growing incredulity,” he said. “No-one is denying any employer’s right to direct staff. However, I frankly would have expected much better from an employer recently found ‘guilty’ of bullying accusations.”

In the email, Ms Hogg said: “We are fortunate that as NHS key workers we don’t face the financial uncertainty of furloughing or layoffs, which others who run their own business or work in other sectors have as a reality.

She added: “There is no right to work at home. For the avoidance of doubt, this [not going to work] is refusing to carry out a reasonable request and is a potential breach of conduct.”

NHS Highland earlier this week said the email was open, honest and compassionate.

A spokesman said: “Part of the communication also covered working at home, in response to concerns raised by some managers that their team members were misunderstanding the guidance.

“The message was quite clear, and in line with national guidance, that we will try and support working from home wherever we can but it is based on operational requirements and so some roles will require people to physically attend the workplace for all or part of the time.

“Where a member of staff cannot physically attend work due to shielding, risk assessment or caring requirements, other arrangements are made but where you can attend work it is entirely reasonable for your manager to ask you to come in.

“The message is fully understanding of the concerns that people may have and talks of the social distancing and hygiene measures in place, as well as the support and tools that are available to colleagues. It also makes it clear that we are the NHS and are relied upon by our communities to deliver the response to Covid-19, whatever job we have.”

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