Advice

Could HR solve...? Doctor Foster

22 Oct 2020 By Elizabeth Howlett

A grieving alcoholic GP is dismissed from his unsupportive workplace 

The problem 

When Dr Jack Reynolds, a widowed GP and known alcoholic on his final warning for non-attendance, fails to turn up for work at Parminster Medical Centre, it becomes apparent the staff are well aware of his addiction – and don’t take it seriously. Reynolds’s superiors, Dr Gemma Foster and the leadership team, decide to dismiss him. But the meeting goes far from smoothly when he turns up drunk and Foster throws several insults before firing him. Could this situation have been handled differently with support and guidance from HR? 

The solution 

If you suspect an employee has an addiction, then a workplace culture of trust and confidence that gives them the psychological safety to speak up – without fear of immediate dismissal or disciplinary action – can go a long way, says HR consultant Steve Carpenter. It is unfortunate that Reynolds does not get on with Foster, his line manager, as he is unlikely to open up to her, says Carpenter. Foster “should have made HR aware of the situation to provide him an alternative line of support”.

“Wellbeing programmes should be regularly signposted,” says Carpenter, and this could have helped Reynolds get help not only with his alcoholism, but also the grief of losing his partner, which likely worsened his drinking.

“It was also very unwise to continue with the dismissal meeting when Reynolds was clearly intoxicated,” Carpenter adds. “Foster and HR should have taken a supportive approach, with empathy for his situation, and asked him to go home, with a mind to continue proceedings at a later date.” 

It would also have been wise to “give Reynolds time away from work and refer him to occupational health for an assessment to see if he was capable of doing his job”, he says. 

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