Childcare worker sacked for drinking on duty takes case to the Court of Appeal
A childcare worker who was fired after drinking while on duty has taken her case to the Court of Appeal.
Cheyra Bell was working for the Department of Child and Family Services as a care worker at a residential home in March 2018 when she and a colleague escorted two teenage clients to the Cornerstone Youth Group in Bermuda.
While the teenagers were at the facility, Ms Bell and her colleague went to a sports social club where she had “two or three beers”.
When she returned to the care home, work colleagues noticed that her speech was slurred and that she was talking loudly. Two children in her care also claimed they heard Ms Bell vomiting.
An investigation was launched and a report submitted to Derrick Binns, the Head of the Civil Service, who found Ms Bell guilty of gross misconduct. Ms Bell was dismissed from her post in February 2019.
Ms Bell appealed the ruling to the Public Service Commission, arguing that dismissal was too harsh a punishment, but the decision was upheld.
At a subsequent judicial review in the Supreme Court last year, Chief Justice Narinder Hargun ruled that disciplinary proceedings had been conducted fairly and that, because of Ms Bell’s responsibilities it was correct that the matter was treated as one of gross misconduct.
In the Court of Appeal yesterday, lawyer Dantae Williams, representing Ms Bell, argued that there were several elements to the case that were contentious.
Mr Williams said that Ms Bell had been interviewed by department bosses during an initial hearing.
But she was never given an opportunity to read their report before it was submitted to Dr Binns. Mr Williams also claimed that, when Ms Bell asked officers for copies of their notes of her interview, she was told that they had been destroyed.
Mr Williams pointed out that the acting director of the department in charge of the inquiry contacted Dr Binns asking advice on whether the matter should be treated as one of misconduct or the more serious offence of gross misconduct.
Under public service disciplinary regulations it is an act of misconduct to drink alcohol at work. However, being intoxicated to the point where a staff member is unable to perform their duties is an act of gross misconduct, which can result in dismissal.
Mr Williams said that after Dr Binns replied that Ms Bell’s conduct warranted a potential charge of gross misconduct, he should have recused himself from any part of any future hearing to avoid any appearance of bias.
“The nature of that request is what brings breeches of natural justice and bias,” Mr Williams said.
But Lauren Sadler-Best, representing the Attorney-General, the DCFS and Dr Binns, hit back.
She said that Dr Binns had simply advised the department head what the disciplinary regulations were and what Ms Bell could potentially be charged.
She said: “He was simply stating the obvious – that if proven, the offence was of sufficient gravity to be one of gross misconduct.
“He was giving his opinion on the gravity of the matter – there is no suggestion that the allegation had been proven and there is no evidence that the Head of the Civil Service made a decision before the hearing.”
Ms Sadler-Best pointed out that Ms Bell’s colleague on the excursion, who later acknowledged that he had had a single drink was not charged with gross misconduct because he did not appear intoxicated and unable to continue working.
She also dismissed claims by Ms Bell that Dr Binns should have interviewed witnesses during the hearing, rather than rely only on their written statements.
The appeals court panel will give its ruling at a later date.