A veteran Illawarra nurse "unreasonably" sacked from her hospital administration job for looking up confidential information about patients, one of whose untimely death made news headlines, has been awarded compensation but will not be rehired.
The NSW Industrial Relations Commission this week ordered the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) to give registered nurse Cassandra Naylor eight weeks' pay as compensation for her unreasonable sacking but stopped short of ordering she be reinstated to her old job.
In a published judgment, Commissioner Damian Sloan said Naylor had been sacked from her role as a community health intake officer at Port Kembla Hospital in January this year after an internal ISLHD investigation found she had engaged in misconduct by "accessing the records of seven patients without clinical justification for doing so" during 2019. She has twice been reprimanded for similar conduct in the past.
However, Naylor denied she had acted inappropriately surrounding the most recent allegations and took the health district to court, claiming her dismissal was "harsh, unjust or unreasonable" and seeking reinstatement.
Commissioner Sloan rejected six of the allegations against Naylor and slammed parts of the ISLHD's conduct in carrying out the investigation, finding her superiors had refused to give her adequate details about the accusations against her and had breached "normal process" by appointing the same person as both judge and jury in her case.
"The overwhelming impression created by the evidence is that the ISLHD assumed Ms Naylor's guilty from the outset and worked towards achieving her removal," Commissioner Sloan wrote.
He did, however, uphold one allegation against Naylor relating to her accessing a file in mid-2019 about a patient three days after his unexpected death.
Naylor maintained she was unaware the patient was dead until she looked up his files, however Commissioner Sloan accepted evidence from Naylor's colleagues that they had been discussing the man's death - which had received widespread publicity via television, radio and newspapers reports - before Naylor logged into his file, ignoring warnings from other nurses as she did so.
The identity of the dead patient has been suppressed by the court.
Commissioner Sloan ruled that Naylor's accessing of the patient's file without clinical justification amounted to misconduct and that while her sacking could not be viewed as unjust, it was unreasonable, given the poor way in which the ISLHD went about its investigation.
"The ISLHD denied Ms Naylor procedural fairness in a process which seems to have assumed her guilt and was directed at achieving her removal," he said.
"On this basis, I find that the dismissal was unreasonable."
However, he refused Naylor's request that she be reinstated into her old job, finding that her history of similar breaches meant the ISLHD could have no confidence she wouldn't violate their policies in the future.
Commissioner Sloan ordered the compensation amount - to be calculated at her rate of pay immediately prior to her sacking - be paid to Naylor within three weeks.