Mrs Jane Rosalind Gordon

Profession: Social worker

Registration Number: SW52320

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 12/11/2018 End: 17:00 13/11/2018

Location: Apex City of Bath Hotel James Street West, Bath, Somerset BA1 2DA , United Kingdom

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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Allegation

During the course of your employment as a Social Worker with South West Gloucestershire Council:

1. Between 1 January 2015 and 17 February 2017, you:

a) made incorrect entries relating to your working hours on the Council’s time recording systems;

b) as a result of the incorrect entries, you were paid for a number of hours that you had not worked;

c) the value of the hours which you had not worked was approximately £3,468.

2. Your actions as described in paragraph 1 amount to dishonesty.

3. The matters set out in paragraphs 1-2 constitute misconduct.

4. By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary matters

Application to amend the allegation

1. Ms Rangamuwa made an application to amend the particulars of allegation. The Registrant did not oppose the application. The HCPC had given Notice to the Registrant of the proposed amendments by letter dated 12 March 2018.The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. In the Panel’s judgment, the proposed amendments served to clarify the particulars of the allegation without materially altering its substance. No injustice would be caused to the Registrant by making the amendments. The application was therefore granted. The particulars as amended are set out above in the amended allegation.

Proceeding in private

2. The Panel acceded to the application of the HCPC, supported by the Registrant, that any matters relating to the Registrant’s private life should be heard in private.

Background

3. The Registrant is a Social Worker registered with the HCPC. She was employed by South Gloucestershire Council (the Council) from 9 April 2001 to 30 March 2017. During this period she held two roles: from 9 April 2001 to 3 May 2009 she was employed as a Care Manager/Social Worker, and from 4 May 2009 to 20 March 2017 she was employed as a Hay 5 Social Work Senior Practitioner. Her contractual hours were 7 hours and 24 minutes per day. There was a flexi-time policy in place whereby staff, including the Registrant, could accrue Time Off in Lieu. Staff were required to record their start and finish times each day.

4. In September 2015 the Registrant’s manager, PE, noticed that the Registrant was arriving late for work and leaving early but that her time recording of her hours of work did not reflect this. PE raised his concern with the Registrant at a supervision session on 18 September 2015. He advised her to use the automated scanning system to record her hours of work and to stop manually recording her start and finish times.

5. In January 2017, PE again observed that the Registrant was arriving after the start time for her contractual working hours and leaving before they ended. On checking the Registrant’s time recording, it appeared that the Registrant had resumed manually recording her start and finish times. PE concluded that the Registrant was recording times exceeding those which she actually worked. An investigation of the relevant records between 1 January 2015 and 17 February 2017 established that the total number of hours which the Registrant recorded as having worked exceeded her actual time at work by 385 hours, to the value of £3,468.55.

6. The Registrant resigned from her employment on 30 March 2017.

7. The matter was reported to the HCPC, resulting in the current proceedings.

Decision on Facts

Burden and standard of proof

8. The Panel was mindful that the burden of proof is on the HCPC and that the civil standard of proof applies, so the particulars of the allegation must be proved on the balance of probabilities.

The evidence on behalf of the HCPC in support of the allegation

9. The HCPC presented a bundle of documents containing the statement of PE and the documents which he exhibited to substantiate the results of his investigation. PE also gave oral evidence. The effect of his evidence was as follows.

10. The Registrant was employed by the Council. From the period of 4 May 2009 to 30 March 2017, she was employed as a Hay 5 Social Work Senior Practitioner.

11. PE was also employed by the Council. He was the Registrant’s line manager from 1 July 2015 until March 2017.

12. PE stated that employees of the Council were able to record when they started work and when they finished work in two ways. One way was to enter start and finish times manually into the Council’s time recording systems. The alternative way was to use a unique card pass that was issued to every staff member of the Council. Staff were able to swipe that card on clocks. Swiping the clock upon entering and leaving the building would effectively automatically record the respective staff members start and finish time for that day.

13. On 18 September 2015, at a supervision meeting with the Registrant, PE informed the Registrant that he had noticed on a number of occasions the Registrant would arrive at work after him and leave before him. However, this was not reflected accurately in her time recording entries in the Council’s system. He had noted that the Registrant was manually entering her working hours, rather than using the card and scanning system. He asked her to use the card as a way of recording her start and finish time each day, rather than by manual entry.

14. PE stated that on 1 February 2016, the Council’s time recording system changed from Wintime to a system called Etarmis. The change in the system did not affect the way in which employees were to record times of arrival and departure from work. The new system still allowed for the manual entry of times, as well as the scanning system to generate that data automatically.

15. In January 2017, PE again made the observation that the Registrant’s start and finish times from December 2016 to January 2017 did not match the times recorded on Etarmis. PE noted that the Registrant was again manually recording her time rather than using the swipe card as advised. PE raised his concerns with the Council’s Human Resources department on 23 January 2017. On 2 February 2017, LC from that Department advised PE to conduct an investigation on the matter and offered her assistance with the investigation.

16. In the course of their investigation, LC and PE obtained relevant data for the period of 1 January 2015 to 17 February 2017. The data included the Registrant’s flexi-time records, data from when she swiped her card to access two different car parks, and office buildings. The data was collated into a spreadsheet. The conclusion drawn from the investigation was that the Registrant had made records of her working hours which did not correspond with, and substantially exceeded, her actual working hours.

17. The Registrant was paid an annual salary to work 7 hours and 24 minutes per day. LC calculated the Registrant’s overclaimed hours for the period of 1 January 2015 to 17 February 2017; that is, the hours in which the Registrant had claimed to have worked through her time recording sheets when in reality she had not worked those hours. LC then calculated that the Registrant had been paid approximately £3,468.55 for hours that she did not actually work as a result of her incorrect time recording entries.

18. PE met with the Registrant on 6 February 2017 and again on 27 February 2017 regarding his investigation. The Panel was provided with copies of PE’s notes of those meetings.

19. At the time, the Registrant did not dispute PE’s findings and said that any discrepancies were “data errors”. The Registrant was provided with the data PE had collated and asked to review and comment on it at a further meeting. However, the Registrant’s response was that she did not want to look at or dispute it.

The Registrant’s evidence

20. The Registrant provided the Panel with a written statement and submissions. She also gave oral evidence.

21. In answer to questions from the Panel, the Registrant admitted that, on reflection, she had made incorrect records of her hours at work and that, as a result, she had been paid approximately £3,468 for hours which she had not worked.

22. The Registrant stated that at the time of being interviewed by PE, following the investigation, she gave “no credence” to the data produced to her by PE. She also said felt overwhelmed by pressures in her personal life and consequently was unable to consider the information provided to her by PE or to take it in.

23. She maintained that she had never intended to benefit from incorrect recording of hours, which were unintentional errors on her part.

The Panel’s assessment of the evidence

24. PE was clear, credible and consistent in his evidence. The Panel accepted his evidence that he had carried out a thorough investigation of the Council’s record systems and had produced all relevant records.

Particulars 1(a), 1(b) and 1(c)

25. With regard to the Registrant’s evidence, the Panel acknowledged her admissions to particulars 1(a), 1(b) and 1(c) of the allegation, but did not accept her assertion that her incorrect recording of her times at work were unconscious or unintentional errors.   

26. On the basis of all the evidence from PE, the evidence contained in the documents provided, and the Registrant’s admissions in evidence, the Panel was satisfied that particulars 1(a), 1(b) and 1(c) were proved to the required standard.

Particular 2

27. The Panel went on to consider whether the Registrant’s actions were dishonest, as alleged in particular 2.

28. In assessing whether or not the Registrant’s actions were dishonest, the Panel adopted the test as set out in Barlow Clowes International v Eurotrust International Ltd and confirmed by the Supreme Court in Ivey v Genting Casinos. The Panel asked itself the following questions:

• What was the state of the Registrant’s knowledge or belief as to the facts (in respect of incorrectly recording her working hours on the Council’s time recording system and subsequently claiming for time that she had clearly not worked)?

• Was that conduct honest or dishonest, applying the objective standards of ordinary people?

29. In the Panel’s judgment, the Registrant’s actions as described in particulars 1(a), 1(b) and 1(c) were dishonest and, accordingly, particular 2 is proved. In reaching its conclusion, the Panel relied on the following matters:

• The occasions on which the Registrant incorrectly entered her start and finish times continued over a period of approximately two years;

• Almost all the errors in recording times were in the Registrant’s favour and at the expense of her employer;

• The Registrant used the scanning system correctly for a period immediately after being asked to do by PE. It was therefore apparent that she knew how to use the system;

• The Panel noted that, after her discussion with PE in September 2015, on the occasions on which she manually (and erroneously) recorded her times, the times recorded were not rounded up or down. The Panel inferred a deliberate intention to mislead and make it appear as if she were using the scanning system;

• The Panel found that the Registrant made a conscious decision to revert to manual recording of her times in the knowledge that she had been advised to use the scanning system;

• When confronted by PE at meetings in February 2017 with the data relating to her erroneous time recording, the Registrant refused to look at the data and did not dispute it. The Panel inferred from this reaction that the Registrant was aware of what she had done. This was inconsistent with her subsequent explanation that she had made the errors unconsciously.

30. In conclusion, the Panel was satisfied that the Registrant deliberately recorded times which exceeded her actual hours of work with the intention of misleading her employer as to her actual hours of work and that, in so doing, she was dishonest.

Decision on Grounds

31. The Panel went on to consider whether the facts found proved, or any of them, amounted to misconduct, as alleged in particular 3. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.

32. The Panel was mindful that this is a matter for the Panel’s professional judgement, there being no standard or burden of proof.

33. The Panel took into account that misconduct was defined in Roylance v General Medical Council (no 2) [2001] 1 AC 311 as:

“…a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a medical practitioner in the particular circumstances”.

34. It is clear from case law that misconduct must be sufficiently serious that it can be properly described as misconduct going to fitness to practice.

35. The Panel found the Registrant to be in breach of the following paragraphs of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics (2012):

10 You must keep accurate records

13 You must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession

36.  The Registrant was in breach of similar provisions contained at standards 9 and 10 of the January 2016 version of the HCPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics.

37. The Registrant was also in breach of the HCPC’s Standards of Proficiency for Social Workers in England (2012 and January 2016 editions), namely:

3.1 understand the need to maintain high standards of personal and professional conduct

10 maintain records appropriately

38. The Panel concluded that the proven particulars of the allegation constituted misconduct.

Decision on Impairment

39. The Panel carefully considered the submissions of Ms Rangamuwa on behalf of the HCPC and those of the Registrant.

40. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and considered the HCPTS Practice Note on “Finding that Fitness to Practise is Impaired”.

41. In determining whether the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired, the Panel took into account both the “personal” and “public” components of impairment. The “personal” component relates to the Registrant’s own practice as a social worker, including any evidence of insight and remorse and efforts towards remediation. The “public” component includes the need to protect service users, declare and uphold proper standards of behaviour, and maintain public confidence in the profession and the Regulator.

42. With regard to the “personal” component of impairment, the Panel considered that the Registrant had little, if any insight, into her culpability. She continued to characterise her falsification of working time records as “errors”. She appeared to blame PE rather than accept that what she did was wrong. In these circumstances, the Panel found that she had taken no steps to remediate her practice and that there was a risk of repetition.

43. The Panel also found the “public” component of impairment to be satisfied in this case. The Panel considered that public confidence in the profession and in the Regulator would be undermined if there were no finding of impairment, given the Panel’s finding that the Registrant’s actions were dishonest.

44. The Panel therefore found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired.

Decision on Sanction

45. The Panel took into account the submissions of Ms Rangamuwa on behalf of the HCPC and the submissions of the Registrant.

46. The Panel adopted the HCPC “Indicative Sanctions Policy” and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. The Panel was mindful that the purpose of a sanction is not to punish the Registrant but to protect the public and the wider public interest of upholding proper standards and maintaining public confidence in the profession and the Regulator. The Panel applied the principle of proportionality, balancing the interests of the Registrant with those of the public, and considered the available sanctions in ascending order.

47. The aggravating factors in this case are that:

• the Registrant’s dishonest time recording of her hours of work covered a period of approximately two years;

• her dishonesty constituted a breach of trust on the part of a senior practitioner;

• the Registrant has so far shown limited insight into her culpability or the seriousness of her misconduct.

48. The mitigating factors are:

• the Registrant was employed as a Social Worker from 2001 until March 2017 and had a previously unblemished career;

• she had provided testimonials which indicated that she was a competent Social Worker, practising at a senior level;

• she has engaged fully in these proceedings;

• during the course of the proceedings, she admitted particulars 1(a), 1(b) and 1(c).

49. The case is too serious for the Panel to take no further action.

50. A Caution Order is only suitable for minor instances of misconduct and is not appropriate given the finding of dishonesty.

51. A Conditions of Practice Order is not relevant or appropriate given that there are no issues relating to the Registrant’s competence.

52. In all the circumstances, the Panel has decided that the appropriate and proportionate sanction is a Suspension Order for a period of 6 months. This is the amount of time that is needed for the Registrant to reflect on her past misconduct and take steps to remediate her misconduct.

53.  At the review of this Order, a future Panel may be assisted by the following:

• a reflective statement from the Registrant about the outcome of these proceedings, her personal responsibility, and the implications of the finding of dishonesty;

• up-to-date references and testimonials from any employer and in relation to any work-related activities since the date of this Order.

Order

That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mrs Jane Rosalind Gordon for a period of 6 months from the date this order comes into effect.

 

Notes

This Order will be reviewed by its expiry.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mrs Jane Rosalind Gordon

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
12/11/2018 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended