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first_imgA childcare worker is seeking damages after being dismissed and then reinstated to a creche.Ms Laura Johnston was dismissed as an employee at Letterkenny Community Childcare Centre.It had been claimed that Ms Johnston had been negligent in her care. The case revolved around an incident in which a child was left outside the creche for a ten minute period while in Ms Johnston’s care in March 2011.However, after internal hearings, Ms Johnston was reinstated.Letterkenny District Court heard this week how, upon returning to her post, her life was made a misery by some staff members who claimed she had covered up the incident.The central element of the case for Ms. Johnston was that she had been left as sole suitable qualified adult childcare worker to supervise the readmission indoors of no less than 12 toddlers, one of whom was only 18 months old, the remainder being within the two to three age category. Under the relevant pre-school childcare statutory regulations of 2006, the legal maximum ratio of qualified care workers to children aged one to two years is 1:5. The ratio in the case of children aged two to three years is 1:6.As one of the children was under two years in this case, the case was made on behalf of Ms. Johnston that the applicable ratio on the date of the incident, the 22nd March, 2011, was 1:5. These ratios are set down in statutory regulations in the interests of child safety.Evidence was given on behalf of Ms. Johnston by Ms. Eileen O’Hanlon of the Pre-school Childcare Office of the H.S.E., the office responsible for enforcing childcare safety standards in such pre-school centres.Ms. O’Hanlon testified that, on the basis of the unchallenged evidence that the court had already heard with regard to the readmission indoors of the children, their safety had been compromised by Letterkenny Community Playgroup Childcare Centre Ltd, in leaving her as sole qualified childcare worker to supervise the safe readmission indoors of the 12 toddlers.Ms. O’Hanlon confirmed in evidence that the co-ordinator of the centre was responsible to ensure that the ratios were observed, and that the co-ordinator in charge of the centre on the relevant date was Ms. Geraldine Burke. After hearing the evidence Judge Paul Kelly said he will make a decision on the case in two weeks time and contact all parties.In her action against her former employers Ms.Johnston is seeking damages for what she alleges is breach of contract, negligence, breach of statutory duty and bad faith in the manner in which her employers allegedly sought to “scapegoat” her for the incident, and for having pursued disciplinary proceedings against her, despite having permitted her be left as sole qualified childcare worker to ensure the safe readmission indoors of at least twice the statutory maximum number of toddlers consistent with child safety and after her solicitor, Cathal Quinn, had raised this in her defence during the initial investigation hearing conducted by Ms Burke. After that hearing ended, and her solicitor had left the room, Ms Burke informed Ms Johnson that she had made things very much worse for herself by having engaged a solicitor. Ms Johnson was dismissed following the subsequent disciplinary hearing.Following an appeal under her employers’ internal appeal procedure, her dismissal was lifted, but the original finding of “gross misconduct” was replaced only by one of alleged “serious misconduct”.Ms. Johnston refused to accept this finding on her return to work on the 26th of April, 2011, when Ms. Burke informed her that the mother of the child who had accidentally been left outside on the 22nd of March had stated that she did not want Ms Johnston to have any further involvement with her son, and that Ms Johnson was being assigned to another part of the centre. Ms Burke had a note taker present during this interview, which she commenced by formally reading the internal appeal panel finding to Ms Johnston, adding that she would continue to have a note taker present to record all future meetings with her.Ms Johnston claimed that she had found her experience on her return to work so humiliating and upsetting that she was never afterwards able to return to work. A Dept of Social Welfare medical examiner had certified in February 2012 that she remained incapable of work. Ms Johnson stated that after the way she had been treated she could never again work at the centre, and that it would be pointless to attempt to obtain work with any other pre school childcare centre in the county, even if she was well enough to do so, while she remains subject to the finding of serious misconduct by her former employers, which finding Mr. Quinn contended was completely unjustified in the circumstances.Ms O’Hanlon had also stated in evidence that the readmission of toddlers indoors was a “critical” time, during which the statutory minimum ratio of childcare workers to toddlers should have been adhered to. It was contended on behalf of the centre that Ms Johnston had been left on her own at that time only for a brief period while a colleague went to the kitchen to fetch the childrens’ lunches, to which Judge Kelly remarked that even a period as brief as “thirty seconds could be an eternity where a child’s safety is concerned.”Following the failure of her employers to remove the finding of serious misconduct against Ms Johnston, she has also had her solicitors initiate a constructive dismissal claim in the Employment Appeals Tribunal, which is expected to take a day and a half at hearing. At its preliminary hearing on the 2nd of May in Letterkenny the Tribunal adjourned the hearing of the substantive issue until the 3rd and 4th of October next in Letterkenny. The employer company defended the District Court action and is also contesting the constructive dismissal claim.Donegal Daily unreservedly apologises to Ms Johnson for the inaccuracies and shortcomings of its report of her case posted on the 3rd of May,and for the resulting upset and embarrassment caused her. In particular, it is accepted that Ms Johnson did not state in evidence that she was negligent in having accidentally left one child outside, or for having failed to see him when he was out of her sight in a recessed doorway in an outdoor play area, whilst she was engaged in readmitting the children indoors by another door, as instructed by her supervisor before the latter went on her lunch.Donegal Daily further accepts that in light of the expert evidence of Ms O’ Hanlon on the subject of the statutory ratios, and her conclusion that the toddlers’ safety had been compromised by the failure of Ms Johnson’s employers to observe those ratios on the occasion in question, Ms Johnston cannot be considered to have been in any way negligent towards any of the toddlers in her care on that occasion, and regrets any inference in its previous report to the contrary. Readers are requested to disregard entirely the report of this case posted on the 3rd of May.DONEGAL CHILDCARE WORKER WAS LEFT IN CHARGE OF 12 CHILDREN COURT HEARS was last modified: May 4th, 2013 by StephenShare this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to share on Skype (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)last_img read more