A medical officer of health sacked for being unmanageable and alienating many of his colleagues has been temporarily reinstated to his job by the Employment Court.
Dr Alistair Humphrey, a medical officer of health employed by the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) for about two decades, was sacked in October for “incompatibility” and bringing the organisation into disrepute.
Earlier this month the Employment Court heard a bid from Humphrey for interim reinstatement to his role until his case claiming wrongful dismissal could be fully heard and determined.
A date for the full hearing has not been set but is expected to be in the next three months.
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In her decision released on Friday, Judge Christina Inglis said Humphrey had a clearly arguable case for permanent reinstatement and that the potential impact on his colleagues by interim reinstatement could be managed.
She said the CDHB’s case was hurt by evidence the employment relationship was not irreparable when Humphrey was sacked.
Humphrey told Stuff on Friday he was very pleased with the decision but had been advised to say no more.
“The decision speaks for itself,” he said.
The CDHB declined to comment.
CDHB submissions filed for last week’s reinstatement hearing alleged Humphrey had a longstanding tendency of being hostile and confrontational, especially with senior colleagues in his public health team.
The submissions said concerns were raised in April 2015 when Humphrey brought his dog into the office.
Humphrey reacted by emailing the entire public health team to vent his disdain for whoever had complained about him and the management team for deciding not to allow dogs in the office, the submission said.
Another incident covered by the submissions claimed that in July 2015, Humphrey acted in a culturally insensitive manner by wearing an English-themed hat celebrating the Battle of Waterloo at a lunch celebrating Matariki.
The submissions quoted a doctor as saying Humphrey was combative and critical of managers for being “ignorant, stupid, and incompetent.”
Judge Inglis said the extent to which the CDHB took reasonable steps when it first became aware, or ought reasonably to have been aware, of the relationship issues would be a focus of the substantive hearing.
“While emphasis was placed on a number of meetings and other interactions that had occurred over the years, and which were said to reflect the proactive steps that the DHB had taken to deal with relationship issues, it appears strongly arguable that they were not the sort of steps that could reasonably have been expected, and actions that were agreed to by management appear not to have been followed through.”
The full hearing would also deal with the adequacy of steps taken by the CDHB to address the problem that Humphrey regarded his obligations differently to his employer, Judge Inglis said.
“Despite the claimed dysfunctionality caused by a debate of the role, nevertheless [the CDHB] continued to support Dr Humphrey’s appointment to the Medical Officer of Health role year after year.”
Also relevant, the Judge Inglis said, were the steps Humphrey has taken to acknowledge and address the issues that have been raised about his conduct and his expressed willingness to engage in a process to rebuild workplace relationships.
Judge Inglis’ decision outlined how a number of CDHB managers and clinicians wrote to the then chief executive, David Meates, in November 2019 raising concerns about various public statements made by Humphrey and working relationship issues.
Meates decided the concerns should be investigated, and Kit Toogood QC began an inquiry. The allegations focused on Humphrey’s public statements and actions, his work relationships and the safety of the work environment.
Toogood concluded some allegations had been established but others had not.
He was critical of the CDHB’s inaction in addressing the relationship issues earlier. The relationship between Humphrey and a number of colleagues had become untenable, but he could not fairly or reasonably conclude the breakdown was irremediable.
Since 2017 no attempt had been made by the senior management of the CDHB to pro-actively and effectively address what were seen by others to be Humphrey’s shortcomings, Toogood had said.
The then-acting chief executive, Peter Bramley, decided that further investigation was required.
Bramley met with Humphrey and his representatives on September 30, 2020.
Humphrey advised that he wanted to look at ways in which relationships between himself and his colleagues could be improved, and set out a range of options that he considered might assist.