Employment Tribunal hears case of NHS worker

20 January 2015

The case of a senior NHS occupational therapist who was disciplined for giving a Christian book to a Muslim colleague, begins in the Employment Tribunal today.

Victoria Wasteney, Head of Forensic Occupational Therapy at a London hospital, was suspended for nine months and then received a written warning following allegations by a Muslim staff-member of harassment and bullying.

An internal disciplinary panel dismissed five complaints against her but upheld three saying that Victoria was wrong to have:
• Invited her colleague to various church-organised events
• Prayed with her colleague (despite having her permission to do so)
• Given her a book about a Muslim woman’s encounter with Christianity

This had taken place over a period of several months in the context of what Victoria believed to be a genuine friendship.

Victoria says that she is challenging her employers because she believes political correctness in the NHS is stifling ordinary conversations about faith and belief.

She is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre and represented by Paul Diamond.

‘Open door’

The young Muslim woman who eventually made the complaints was appointed as a newly qualified occupational therapist in a group of thirty managed by Victoria.

Victoria operated an ‘open door’ policy to all members of her team and the new employee came to her to chat and seek advice on a number of occasions.

“One of the earliest conversations I can recall was one in which she said she had just moved to London. She felt that God had a real plan and a purpose for her,” recalls Victoria.

Victoria told her that she went to church, but was “very cautious because our environment is such that these things can be misconstrued and, with her being from a different faith background, I was mindful of being respectful of that”.

They discovered that they shared a concern to combat human-trafficking and Victoria explained work being done by her church in that area.

Over a period of time, Victoria invited her colleague to several church-organised events and thought no more about it. Later, when the woman was due to be off work for hospital treatment, Victoria gave her a book to read during her recuperation.

“A friend had recommended it to me, a book called I Dared to Call Him Father. I hadn’t read it. I still haven’t. But it is a story about a Muslim woman and her encounter with Christianity. Because we had had these conversations it did not seem abnormal.” 

‘Offered to pray’

On another occasion the woman came to Victoria’s office in tears, upset about her health and problems at home.

“I said to her that she had strong faith and she should draw on that faith,” explained Victoria. “I said ‘Pray!’ She told me she could not pray, so I replied ‘Maybe I can pray for you?’ And she said ‘OK’.

“I asked if I could put my hand on her knee, and she said yes. I don’t know if I said ‘Lord’ or ‘God’ but I said what I thought was the most neutral. Then I said ‘I trust that You will bring peace and You will bring healing’.”

However, the colleague later made eight complaints against Victoria, leading to Victoria being accused of ‘harassment and bullying’, suspended for nine months and then being disciplined.

‘Forced to hide things that matter most’

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, commented “Victoria’s case highlights the risks of the current ‘equality and diversity’ framework. Rather than bringing people together and creating more cohesive workplaces where people can be honest about who they are and build meaningful relationships, ‘political correctness’ means that many workplaces are becoming fragmented, superficial and suspicious. People are being forced to hide their identity and the things that matter most to them.”

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