An occupational health nurse has won a landmark case for unfair dismissal over the issue of confidentiality.
A Leeds tribunal has found in favour of Tracey Cooke on the grounds of protected disclosure in a case that will have serious implications for OH staff instructed to disclose the contents of confidential documents on employees and potential employees.
While carrying out some paper screening for a prospective employee, she discovered the individual was a hepatitis B carrier. However, following further medical information, the individual was declared fit for the post. There were discrepancies over the declared sickness and absence on the application form and references, but after asking to see the individual again, Cooke still found that they were fit for work, and the individual concerned said they were prepared to meet with personnel to discuss the discrepancies.
However, an HR manager called Cooke while she was out of the office and demanded to see the potential employee’s health screening form.
Although Cooke refused, citing the Nursing and Midwifery Council guidelines on confidentiality, the HR manager took the file and read the confidential medical information.
Within three months of this incident, Cooke was dismissed while she was off work with work-related stress.
Cooke took her former employers, West Yorkshire Probation Board, to court under the Employment Rights Act, with the Royal College of Nursing occupational health adviser, Carol Bannister, as her chief witness.
“The tribunal found that the principal reason for dismissal was because I made a protected disclosure,” Cooke said. “I felt I was being bullied and harassed to share information that I couldn’t.”