Tribunal upholds sacking of care home worker suspected of disabling fire alarm to go for smoke

A Dundee care home officer was rightly sacked for smoking on duty and trying to cover up her behaviour, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Jacqueline Kettles was found to have opened a fire exit and disabled the alarm system at Turriff House to go outside for a cigarette.

She should have been inside looking after the frail elderly residents, many of whom have dementia and would wander outside if not stopped by the alarm system.

She denied she had been smoking and said she had gone outside as she wasn’t feeling well, but the city council felt the evidence against her was ”overwhelming” and they sacked her for gross misconduct.

Mrs Kettles alleged she had been unfairly dismissed as a social care officer at the premises in Rannoch Road.

The tribunal heard that on the morning of April 7 last year, a council personnel officer visited the home to investigate a separate disciplinary matter involving residents being left unsupervised for 20 minutes.

As she approached in her car, the personnel officer thought she saw a member of staff standing at a fire door in a secluded corner. As she got closer the staff member saw her and hurriedly went inside.

The personnel officer thought the incident was odd and told staff about it. She then went to the hallway of the Longwynd section and at the fire escape she smelled cigarettes.

The fire escape was alarmed and the alarm would have to be disabled to open the door without it going off.

She then saw Mrs Kettles but thought she ”ducked into a room” to avoid her, behaviour she regarded as unusual.

Tribunal chairman Mr J Hendry said, in rejecting the claim unanimously, that they accepted the evidence that Mrs Kettles had been smoking. The evidence had been circumstantial but was ”compelling” in the eyes of the employers.

Considering all the circumstances of the case, the tribunal could not say that dismissal was outwith the band of responses open to the city council, and so the dismissal was fair.