For N.H. & H.R. Thank you both.
Like most jobs nowadays, my Atos contract had the usual caveats about the use of social media. You’d think common sense would cover it, I mean who’d be stupid enough to badmouth their employer in public? Ex-employers obviously come under a whole new set of rules 🤣
From the start of my employment with Atos, I think it would be fair to say I was on their “watch list”. I’m not a “yes man”, and Atos don’t like anything to be questioned. Once a week we would gather in the “breakout room” 😡 for a weekly “huddle” 😡 (Ricky Gervais couldn’t write this shit). Every week would open with the centre “manager” spouting figures at us. Office, regional & national numbers for all sorts of criteria such as; claimants seen, claimants sent home unseen and of course what fines Atos had to pay to the DWP for missed targets. A lifetime ago I was a financial adviser, and frankly his presentation would confuse a room full of those.
It was probably about my third week, sitting there, looking at a room full of confused & bored faces, when I asked; “Why are we told this every week. I have a target of 4 claimants per day, that I manage to see,or I don’t. None of this is relevant to me.” All of a sudden, there’s a room full of people sat upright and muttering agreement. I told them on day 1 (and at least once a week thereafter) that the soundproofing between consultation rooms in our new office were inadequate. The office telephone system had 2 lines, both allegedly routed to front office. Two to three times a week on average, calls on the second line were routed to my consultation room, usually mid-assessment. Can you imagine being anxious anyway, and your assessment interupted by a phone call. As a professional, it was mortifyingly embarrassing. Again I was on about this all the time. I had a disciplinary early in 2017; after I acted inappropriately (shouting & swearing), due to the indecision & incompetence of my line “manager” John O’Shay (name changed to protect the guilty).
Despite my throwing my hands up immediately, & saying it was unacceptable & unprofessional, they made a huge investigation (they sent me the docs pre-kangaroo court, including unanonymised statements from the people I was most regularly complaining about re; inefficiency). I shall tell that story another day but this was the upshot; despite having a virtually flawless record on their assessment criteria: despite being in the office an hour early every day, both professionaly dressed and not stinking of alcohol: despite no previous disciplinary issues, for the crime of shouting & swearing, I was given a FINAL WRITTEN WARNING (FWW). I’ve put that in capitals as apart from being excessive, surely if I was such a bad employee,you now had carte blanche to fire me anytime?
I think I moved up on the “watch list” when I suggested to the health professionals, we join a seperate single union in addition to our own professional specific ones. My rabble rousing led to two others joining.
Right! If you are not aware of this from my early Twitter posts, take a seat. In the office I worked in for the majority of my time with Atos, it became quite common practice for assessors to check Facebook after an assessment, if something didn’t feel right and there was insufficient supporting documentation. This was by no means all assessments and I was not the first. I had assessed a lady who claimed she had arthritis in her hands, and who sat there for the duration of the assessment with both hands clawed and no movement in either. She had a prescription showing minimal prescibed pain relief, had never asked for, or more suprisingly, simply been referred for an orthopaedic consult by a GP she claimed to see frequently. Her convincing performance with her hands aside, none of it stood up and she scored the appropriate zero.
Despite all the evidence in front of me, I sat at home that night and looked from a different angle. Had I done her a disservice, after all she may have a high pain threshold, may be worried about seeing a consultant. So I tapped her name in to Facebook; very little surprise to find her in a date sensitive snap with no apparent deformity of her fingers. It did allow me to sleep straight in my bed, knowing that someone who didn’t deserve an award was not going to be taking money from one who did!
IMPORTANT: I never used Facebook to support my decisions, my decisions were based on my assessments. I used it just as described above.
I told a few people gathered in the office the next morning, including our clinical support lead (CSL), & “manager” O’Shay about this and as well as all having a chuckle, even O’Shay had an equivalent tale to tell about an assessor from his previous (and I believe current) office. At no point did he or the CSL say to any of us that it broke protocol and we should stop.
A friend and former colleague (who has told me in writing, that he will testify, providing his new job and family are not affected) even told a tale of an application form which seemed so conflicted that he checked in advance, and finished the assessment by telling the claimant (wracked by some musculoskeletal condition throughout his body, and unable to cut his own food), that he should hide his account as the pictures of him on his hands & knees staining or sanding his decking last weekend were in conflict with his PA2.
It was this practice that led to my suspension and immediately going sick when it became apparent that I was the victim of a witch hunt. I had arrived at work the usual hour early, and as was often the case, to finish off work that there was no time for the day before. Note; this obviously does not make for a well written report if your assessor isn’t completing tests and recording results as they find them.
Anyway, on this occasion (remember I’m on a FWW so they could have found any excuse between then (Feb 2017) and now (early to mid April 2017 (based on the pre-interview, suspension letter given to me dated 18th April), I’m in an hour early to finish off a case which the company would refer to as complex (many comorbidities), and, as was an unreasonably regular thing for one of the world’s largest IT firms, the systems were not working.
Again I’ll hold my hands up, I was furious! Swearing at the situation & no individual, I went to the room occupied by our CSL, who was, at the time training the nurse, who by her own admission (& my hearing (remember that soundproofing issue?)) often didn’t bother with the musculoskeletal testing. In addition there was a CSL from another centre and I asked that he try to explain (as my own couldn’t) how I was meant to do the job with a system that didn’t work, so little evidence that ALL assessors were resorting to having to check social media, & that both CSL & so called manager O’Shay were aware. He asked me if I was aware that I should not be using social media, to which I answered “of course”, but what were we meant to do to try to ensure that the reports reflected the facts. I take pride in my title, and if that meant I had to look at Facebook very occasionally to confirm what I was putting my signature to on a legal document affecting someone’s ability to live (or stopping the odd person taking incorrectly from the system), then what else could I do? He placated me, the system whirred in to action and the day continued as normal, and me no closer to a reasonable answer as to how we were meant to complete 4 assessments per day.
Shortly before Easter 2017, I was suffering badly with hayfever symptoms which were making it difficult to work. I was aware that it would be frowned upon if I booked an appointment during work time, so made one which would mean leaving only 10 mins early later in the week.
I’ve just checked the calendar, Wednesday 12th April 2017, despite suffering severe sneezing and my nose streaming (numerous members of staff had asked if i was okay in the preceding days), I went to work. Before the first claimant was in, I told O’Shay that I would need to make an emergency appointment with my GP, as working whilst sneezing mucous over claimants was perhaps not for the best. He grudgingly allowed me to leave for what was originally a morning appointment. Once at home, I got a call from my GP practice putting the appointment off until the afternoon, something I immediately made O’Shay aware of, and that I would update him asap.
Having seen my GP who prescribed 4 different medications, including a steroid, I called O’Shay to tell him that depending on how well the meds worked, would decide whether I would be in the following day, but it was unlikely. He asked if I’d be back Friday, until I reminded him that it was Good Friday. He asked if I thought I would be back on the 18th, the first day after the Bank holiday. I told him that of course I would. At this point the call became a bit surreal as he mumbled something along the lines of; There’s an investigation, I don’t know what it’s about but you need to be back on Tuesday (18th)
On the 18th, I headed in as normal, only to find that along with O’Shay, there was his “boss” (a lady whose sister was also one of my “managers” #Nepotism). The two of them came in to my office, closed the door and asked me about the meeting with the other CSL and whether I had discussed using Facebook. I said of course I had, as the man across the table knew! They ignored that, told me that I was to be questioned by two other Atos people and gave me a letter telling me I was suspended anyway. I suppose with hindsight, if I was suspended, I should have walked before the kangaroo court that then took place.
I told these people everything I have told you, I have the minutes and the unanonymised “character references”. Can you believe this? Character references from people that O’Shay and the centre CSL knew were using social media. Now I understand the cynics out there saying, of course he’s gone sick he has been caught doing wrong. You’re wrong! I had repeatedly told my manager and indeed the notes from the previous disciplinary show that I mentioned the effect that the job was having on me. I went sick to protect myself; 6 other centre based assessors plus maybe 10 home assessors, ALL doing it, and I’m the ONLY one suspended? The centre “MANAGER” & CSL knew about it, joked about it yet were not suspended. It wasn’t until I pointed out weeks, and a breach of data later, that it didn’t feel appropriate that O’Shay remain my line “manager” and they palmed me off to an even less managerial type. Remember, I’m on a FWW, they could have got rid of me for a spurious time keeping issue. It’s a very, very naive person who thinks that the use of social media was isolated to this office!
My treatment in the time between 18th April 2017 and my resignation in May 2018; how Atos’ support contributed to my being sectioned will be published. Their’s and Legal & General’s conspiracy to find a reason to not pay me income protection will be published email, by GP report, by text, by timings of historical phone calls, by psychiatrist’s letters, but that’s not a tale for today.
I know I have chosen two very extreme examples there; but even the most innocuous of pictures on your social media, although not usable in a report, some assessors do look before assessment and therefore their opinions may be tainted. If they see for example a picture of you sat on a bench on the promenade (even though your wheelchair is out of shot; or that, that half hour’s fresh air took you 3 days to recover from), they could be immediately cynical of what you are saying.
PLEASE-Protect your social media accounts. If you don’t know how to alter your privacy settings, look at a YouTube video, or if you have someone who can help ask them. Have nothing showing that can be used by a judgemental assessor to find justification for putting you through the pain of an appeal!