Doctor wins bullying payout

By Anita Moran

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The health board has been ordered to reimburse a doctor over allegations of bullying. Photo/File.
The health board has been ordered to reimburse a doctor over allegations of bullying. Photo/File.

A Tauranga doctor, who claimed he was bullied, has won compensation from the Bay of Plenty District Health Board after it was found he was unjustifiably dismissed.

The Employment Relations Authority has ordered the DHB pay Dr Paul Hirini three months' salary in reimbursement and $7500 compensation for injury to his feelings resulting from the personal grievance.

Dr Hirini was employed by the health board in March 2009, from October that year he worked in the specialist Infant, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service at Tauranga Hospital. He was part of a multi-disciplinary team that included a team leader, a nurse, an occupational therapist, a social worker, and a psychiatric registrar.

A report released by the Employment Relations Authority said the District Health Board breached its obligations to Dr Hirini.

The report says the health board did not properly investigate Dr Hirini's complaint he was being bullied, nor did it take practical steps to keep him safe while the investigation was underway.

The health board was also found to have suspended Dr Hirini unfairly and that he was not given an opportunity to comment on allegations made against him before they were put to the New Zealand Psychologists Board.

The authority found Dr Hirini's resignation amounted to a constructive dismissal. The dismissal was found to be unjustified.

On January 18, 2012, Dr Hirini submitted a report stating he had been bullied in the workplace. He claimed the bullying was in response to an opinion he gave on a case file during a team meeting. He accused a member of the team of being aggressive and belittling him.

The authority said Dr Hirini's team leader not only failed to curtail the aggressive behaviour of the accused, but also supported it.

"The [report] said further that the threats and criticism were part of an overall pattern of bullying, but no other incidents were identified."

A second report, centred on the behaviour of the same two staff members, was filed in February 2012, which said their behaviour comprised the "overall pattern of bullying".

All parties met in March 2012 to discuss the complaints and a procedure for addressing them.

The two accused staff members were interviewed in April that year and both denied the allegations against them. They then raised their own concerns about Dr Hirini, stating he was the bully.

The health board tried to meet with Dr Hirini to discuss the complaints, but he declined to attend stating he did not have a sufficient understanding of what was to be discussed.

He was later sent a letter, which included details of their allegations.

In a letter dated May 16, 2012, Dr Hirini was provided with details of their allegations. "He was informed he was suspended while an investigation was conducted, although the parties later agreed he would work from home."

In May, concerns were also raised about aspects of Dr Hirini's case management.

The health board also tried to meet with him to discuss this, but Dr Hirini declined to attend until he had better information about the nature of the concerns.

On May 4, the health board sent a letter to Dr Hirini stating he was to have no further contact with patients until after the meeting. Dr Hirini then resigned. The authority found the breached duties to Dr Hirini had a cumulative effect, causing the resignation.

Neither Dr Hirini, nor the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, could be contacted for comment yesterday.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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