A 34-year-old nurse sacked for cracking a joke while trying to restrain a patient having an epileptic fit was unfairly dismissed, the appeal court has ruled.
Laura Bowater was on her way out of the door after a 12-hour shift at Central Middlesex Hospital’s A&E department in July 2006 when she stopped to help staff restrain the “extremely strong” 31-year-old man. The patient’s trousers had been removed so he could be given an injection in the buttocks.
Ms Bowater had sat on his ankles in an effort to keep his legs still but the patient flipped on to his back, kicking the nurse forward so that she ended up straddling him. When it happened, she quipped: “It’s been a few months since I have been in this position with a man underneath me.”
The judges ruled that many people would have found the senior staff nurse’s comment “merely humorous” and that bosses had no need to sack her for it. A complaint about her joke was not made until six weeks later, despite the fact that the patient was unconscious at the time the remark was made.
Ms Bowater, who had four years’ unblemished service at the hospital, was eventually sacked from her £25,000-a-year job for “gross misconduct”.
A Watford employment tribunal panel backed Ms Bowater’s claim of unfair dismissal but her bosses at North West London Hospitals NHS trust successfully challenged this at the employment appeal tribunal.
The appeal court’s Lord Justice Burnton overturned the last decision and ruled in favour of Ms Bowater, who he says was only 25% responsible for the sacking.
The Watford Employment Tribunal panel will now decide on how much compensation the nurse should be paid.
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