A care worker has told how she was “devastated” when she was sacked for making a dancing video to help cheer up her colleagues.
Michelle Cooper, from Helston, worked for Cormac as a team leader in the STEPS team, which helps people to rehabilitate at home after being discharged from hospital.
At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak Michelle noticed videos on social media of public sector workers such as nurses, doctors, police officers and firefighters posting videos of them dancing, often wearing uniforms and PPE.
The videos were hailed online by people who were happy to see something to make them smile during such a bleak time.
Michelle, who had worked for the Cornwall Council owned company for seven years, decided to do a video herself to help cheer up her colleagues. She also thought she would ask her family and friends – and not the general public – to donate towards providing a cream tea for her team to boost their spirits.
She said the idea was run past her superiors and after no objections were raised, she went about setting it up.
She recruited three colleagues and they practised their moves alone at home before filming the video in Michelle’s garden, which she said was socially distanced and shot by her son from inside the house.
Dancing away to Beyonce’s Single Ladies while in uniform and wearing PPE the routine was a welcome tonic during a challenging period for carers, and once it went online it was celebrated by Michelle’s colleagues. Her mum and aunt also donated £30 towards the cream tea.
But then the foursome found themselves contacted individually by their performance manager.
Michelle said: “They said the videos were not appropriate for Cormac, that they would have to be taken down and deleted and we would have to send the money back to those who donated.
“She said that would be the end of it and we did all of that. A week later, all four of us were suspended.”
This happened in May and they were all suspended while an investigation was carried out which lasted until July.
Michelle said: “We all felt we were doing something really good for the team, it gave everybody a boost and we got a lot of positive feedback.”
While Michelle’s three colleagues were all given final written warnings, she was dismissed in July.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she says now. “They put us through the worst time ever with the investigation and disciplinary action.”
Michelle successfully appealed her dismissal, although was given a final written warning to last three years, and was then offered a new post at Cormac which she claims had a lower pay rate, different work patterns and different terms and conditions from her previous role.
While she initially accepted the job she has now resigned, saying that she felt unable to work for the company after her experience.
“After what they put me and my family through I didn’t feel I could work there anymore. I have lost my career for trying to do something nice.
“I was devastated, completely devastated; I had some amazing relationships with staff, team leaders and carers and I have been able to keep in touch with them.
“I was an absolute mess, but you have to pull your pants up and get on with life.
“My family was angry and upset because they saw what happened.”
Michelle is clear that the video was filmed responsibly with everyone observing social distancing guidelines and that the PPE worn was not being taken away from use.
Michelle added: “When I was told in the first instance to take the videos off, give the money back and that will be the end of it, I genuinely thought that would be it.
“To then be told I was suspended and then sacked was a massive shock. Whenever I tell people about this they don’t believe me because you couldn’t make it up.”
Michelle said she has since been in contact with unions to see if there have been any other cases of people being dismissed for making these kinds of videos and said that they have found none.
She said she is also concerned that the investigation would have cost money which might have otherwise be spent on public services.
In response Alison Waller, managing director of Cormac Community Care Services, said: “Without commenting on any specific cases, as one of Cornwall’s largest employers, Corserv is responsible for the safety and wellbeing of all our employees and our communities.
“Our social care services are helping to support the most vulnerable people across Cornwall operating under clear local and national regulation.
“Our company policies are in place to ensure we adhere to all regulation standards which are there to protect and guide our workforce and to protect our clients.
“Where there is a significant breach of regulated activity we will always take the appropriate action to resolve.”