The PIA - The Pharmacy Insurance Agency

The Impact of Employment Disputes

The relationship between an employee and their employer will be one of the more important relationships they will have.

In many employment situations this relationship is a good one, sometimes however, this relationship can suddenly change; a serious dispensing error involving the police and the regulatory authorities occurs the press are involved and the employer's name and reputation are damaged.

In other cases, it is a gradual change; a new manager or different organisational priorities. In the case of pharmacy technicians, it could be because they are now registered professionals and they have a dilemma between their responsibilities towards patients as set out in the Code of Ethics and what is demanded of them by their employer.

Currently, community pharmacies are seeing a reduction in income, hospitals face funding cuts and much of primary care is being painfully reconfigured. It is inevitable that employers will look to cost savings, and staff cuts will mean less staff are expected to do more, while still maintaining high standards of patient care.

Pharmacy technicians are expected to cope with intensive workloads whilst maintaining 100% accuracy, whether in their dispensing and checking in a community pharmacy, their activities out on wards in a hospital or in supporting a switching programme in a GP surgery. These days, activity is dictated by extensive Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and an unauthorised deviation from these SOPs can and has led to a gross misconduct disciplinary offence and dismissal. SOPs are a tool for an employer to define how a process operates, but (as can be seen in the feature on page 4) are also a way of ensuring that the employer cannot be held responsible in the event of an error being made by an employee.

An employer's defence would be that it has in place SOPs, which the pharmacy staff have signed and their contract of employment requires them to follow. So if the error shows that there is an SOP departure, then it is primarily the employee who should be held to blame and suffer the consequences.

Every pharmacy professional knows that a high workload coupled with inadequate levels of trained staff can make following SOPs much more difficult, and shortcuts are sometimes taken to try and meet employer targets.

Unfortunately, from the cases already handled by the PIA, in some cases pharmacy professionals who raise concerns about being unable to cope because of inadequate resources can sometimes find that their relationship with their employer changes quite quickly and they become the subject of a capability review, i.e., "You're the problem, not us".

Some pharmacy professionals, in order to avoid being involved in a performance management process, just keep quiet and try to cope with dwindling resources, thus risking the safety of the patients they serve, and often their own health.

The good news is that employment legislation is available to protect employees in such situations. It is hard to know where to turn for advice on employment difficulties because line managers or personnel officers, or the trade association that the pharmacy may be a member of, are used to looking after the interests of the employer. They are not independent and may find it difficult to support the individual when there is a conflict with the employer.

Professional indemnity insurance is designed to give individual pharmacy professionals access to employment advice that is entirely independent of their employer.

Learning Points

  • Patients' needs should always be put ahead of any employer's organisational requirements.
  • Employment legislation exists to protect employees in the event that they have a potential conflict situation with their employer.
  • Pharmacy technicians may not be able to rely on their employer or their employer's trade association for advice on employment difficulties.
  • Pharmacy technicians should arrange to have access to independent support in the event of difficulty with their employer.

The Pharmacy Insurance Agency Limited is registered in England and Wales under company number 2591975
It is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Register No 307063)