A supermarket worker bullied by her manager, has won an appeal in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (‘QIRC’). The supermarket rejected the worker’s psychiatric injury claim, relying on the reasonable management action defence.
Bullied Supermarket Worker Claims Relationship Ending Caused Bullying
Employers are not liable for psychiatric injuries caused by reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way. The psychiatric evidence identified a number of stressful events that contributed to the psychiatric illness. The worker’s manager took the worker to hospital because the worker had suffered a hit to her head at work. This hospital trip occurred after hours. Furthermore, the worker alleged that the manager’s partner had binned the manger’s meal and ended their relationship. However, the relationship ending was denied by the manager. The worker alleged that the partner ended the relationship because the manager was at hospital with the worker. After that, the manager treated the worker differently. The manager became cold and avoidant.
At a team huddle the manager tore strips off the worker in front of work colleagues for work performance issues. However, these issues were not the worker’s fault. Then the manager ambushed the worker at a meeting without having a support person. The worker was also denied permission to record the meeting. In the background of these events, there was also a dispute about the correct level of pay for the worker. The supermarket’s HR department was found to have conducted a reasonable investigation. However, the Commission found the manager’s conduct, in relation to the pay dispute, to be unreasonable.
Bullied Supermarket Worker Claims Psychiatric Injury
The case is interesting for injured workers and employers because it involves a legal consideration of the cause of a psychiatric injury caused by unreasonable management action or bullying in the context of other reasonable management action. In this case, the QIRC found that the reasonable management action regarding the pay dispute by HR alone would not have caused the psychiatric illness without the other unreasonable actions taken by the manager.
The worker admitted evidence that the manager had bullied another worker on an earlier occasion. However, the QIRC found that single earlier incident of bullying did not prove the manager was a bully generally. Evidence of a propensity for bullying can be relevant in these types of cases though.
Key Points in The Case
The injured worker is now able to proceed with their claim. However, the case highlights the incredibly high hurdle a worker has to get over before they can proceed with a work injury claim. This is especially so, if the workers’ compensation insurer and workers’ compensation regulator reject the injury as one that workers compensation does not cover. This worker had to run a multi-day trial with a legal team (solicitor and barrister) and pay expert witness fees for psychiatrists and psychologist to give evidence to the QIRC. The worker needed these elements just for the Commission to allow her to start a claim. And this was for a manager who had previously bullied another worker and who was disciplined for bullying the worker who made this claim.
Bullying in the context of reasonably management action does not prevent a psychiatric injury claim, where the injury would not have occurred if only the reasonable management action, and not the bullying has happened.