NHS worker threatened to ‘rip colleague’s beard off’ after someone used his cup

Glasgow Royal Infirmary - Richard Johnson/iStock Editorial
Glasgow Royal Infirmary - Richard Johnson/iStock Editorial

An NHS hospital worker threatened to “rip a colleague’s beard off” because someone used his cup.

Stephen Mullen flew into a rage and confronted fellow staff to ask who was responsible after he discovered a small amount of liquid left in his mug which he then spilt on himself, an employment tribunal heard.

The supervisor was accused of threatening Paul Hutchison, a member of his team, during an angry exchange sparked by one of the staff using his cup.

Despite protesting his innocence, Mr Mullen was sacked for gross misconduct after almost 20 years of working for the health service.

Now an employment tribunal has awarded the 43-year-old almost £9,000 after ruling that the NHS investigation into his behaviour was flawed.

However, the compensation has been significantly reduced after a judge found his behaviour had a serious impact on Mr Hutchison.

Threatening behaviour

The hearing in Glasgow was told that Mr Mullen started working for the city’s Royal Infirmary in 2002 as a technician.

In 2018, he was appointed to the role of supervisor in the endoscopy decontamination unit, earning £26,000 a year.

The hearing was told that on March 11 2021, Mr Hutchison, a technician who worked for him, made a complaint following an incident that had taken place the same day.

“In summary, he stated that [Mr Mullen], who was his supervisor, was agitated about someone using a cup belonging to him,” the tribunal heard.

“In trying to calm him down, [Mr Mullen] had repeatedly sworn at him and made apparent threats later on.”

‘Angry and disappointed’

The tribunal heard that while berating him, Mr Mullen had told Mr Hutchison he wanted to “rip his f-----g beard off his f-----g face”, that he knew where he parked his car and that he would “get him outside”.

When questioned about the incident, Mr Mullen said that he was “angry and disappointed” to find that someone had used his cup and left liquid in it, which had covered him after he grabbed it.

After asking everyone in his changing room, including Mr Hutchison, if they had used his cup, no one admitted responsibility, the tribunal heard.

Mr Hutchison, who according to Mr Mullen was not wearing the correct PPE at the time, then approached him in the department’s wash area and told him the cup was not his.

Shouting match

The tribunal was told a shouting match then ensued.

At a subsequent disciplinary hearing, the hospital accused him of verbally berating his colleague.

Mr Mullen said that he and Mr Hutchison had been friends and he was willing to apologise to him.

However, he denied threatening him and said that he had been provoked because he was not wearing the correct PPE at the time.

In Oct 2021, he was found guilty of gross misconduct and fired.

Appeal over dismissal upheld

Mr Mullen’s appeal against the decision was rejected and he took the health board to the tribunal claiming unfair dismissal.

His case was upheld after the tribunal ruled the disciplinary process had taken too long, was not impartial and had been potentially influenced by the previous incidents.

Rosie Sorrell, the employment judge, said: “I have carefully assessed all the evidence in the round. In doing so, I have found there were procedural defects in the process leading to [Mr Mullen’s] dismissal.

“I have therefore concluded that these procedural deficiencies had such impact that they rendered the whole process unfair and that [Glasgow Health Board] did not act reasonably in dismissing [him].”

Mr Mullen was awarded £8,956.26 in compensation. However, the judge ruled it should be reduced by 75 per cent to £2,312.50 because of the “serious nature of his misconduct”.