An adjudication officer for the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) called for a review of a grievance panel decision in a dispute involving a consultant ‘s participation in an on-call rota.
The consultant is employed on a half-time (19.5 hours per week) contract with a voluntary hospital.
He commenced employment on a short, temporary contract in November 2008. He was re-employed under the 2008 consultant contract in March 2009.
On return from a period of leave, the consultant expressed a wish not to work on-call duty, as provided for in his contract.
Between 2008 and December 2014 the consultant did participate in the on-call rota as part of his work practice plan. The consultant was on leave from December 2014 until June 2017.
An agreement was reached in July 2017, in which the consultant chose one of two job plans. However, the consultant withdrew from that agreement in December 2017.
In November 2018, the hospital again offered the consultant two job plans.
In December of that year, the consultant selected job plan two, which had no on-call duty, but had more outpatient duty.
Subsequently, however, the consultant was required to participate in the on-call rota.
The hospital acknowledged a work practice plan, without an on-call commitment, was presented to the consultant on the understanding that the service “could absorb this option”.
However, circumstances changed and the hospital said it could not implement the agreement.
The hospital asserted that the express terms of the consultant’s contract required him to undertake an on-call commitment.
The consultant, through the IMO, lodged a grievance with the hospital.
The grievance panel decision in March 2020 upheld the hospital’s position.
The consultant was to participate on the on-call rota “subject to its inclusion within a reasonable work practice plan pro rata to [his] weekly working hours”.
“We established at the meeting that this commitment amounts to approximately one weekend per quarter and five-to-six weekdays,” according to the grievance panel.
While the matter was not resolved to the consultant’s satisfaction, he participated in the on-call rota, as instructed by the hospital, since March 2020.
The dispute was submitted to the WRC in April 2021.
“In my opinion the employee has a contractual obligation to participate in the on-call rota, pro rata to his half-time post of 19.5 hours per week,” according to the adjudication officer.
“The employee receives a fixed annual allowance of €4,235 in the on-call commitment.
“It is also my opinion that there should be consultation between the employer and employee about the details of the employee’s work practice plan. I am satisfied that there has been extensive consultation in this dispute about a plan that is acceptable to both employee and employer.”
The adjudication officer noted the first agreement was rejected by the consultant and the second agreement was changed by the hospital.
“This demonstrates that circumstances change, on both sides, and work practice plans must change in response to those circumstances,” they said.
The adjudication officer said that the main issue in dispute was trying to agree what is a ‘reasonable’ work practice plan in the context of the consultant’s contractual obligations.
According to the ruling, the consultant should acknowledge that he has a contractual obligation to participate in the on-call rota of his department.
They recommended that the hospital acknowledge that the prioritisation of the work of the department is a matter for the Clinical Director.
The adjudication officer also recommended that the Clinical Director review the position set out by the grievance panel, in order to establish the current needs of the department.
The review should take “account of changes that may have taken place since 2020 and of the additional clinics being worked by the employee”.
The hospital should acknowledge that the consultant, in consultation with the departmental Business Manager, established additional clinics at a satellite outpatient clinic, which have increased his workload.
The review should be completed within three months and the outcome should be discussed with the consultant and his union representative.
Following the review, the consultant should be “consulted about a reasonable work practice plan that meets the needs of the department, hospital, and the employee’s contractual obligations”.
The adjudication officer stated the employee should accept that the final decision on the work practice plan for him will be the responsibility of the Clinical Director. However, both the consultant and the hhospital should acknowledge “that work practice plans are not permanent and may require further review and/or amendments, depending on changes in circumstances within the department or the hospital”.
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