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Employee's Psychological Injury - Not Reasonable Management Action

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A night shift worker has successfully won her workers compensation claim for an adjustment disorder with anxiety and depression, despite her employer claiming it was the result of ‘reasonable management action’.

The Queensland Industrial Relations Commission found that when employers are determining if actions taken were that of ‘reasonable management action’, consideration must be given to the tone and demeanour used by managers when dealing with employees.

The employee alleged the following incidents over a period of three months had occurred to cause her injury:-

  • Supervisor complaints about missing a family dinner due to driving the employee to the hospital after suffering concussion in a work accident;
  • During a team huddle, the supervisor abused the employee for failing to ensure her team had completed a shelf stacking task, then every time the employee attempted to respond, was cut off by the supervisor. This let to a shouting match between the two.
  • Following the above incident, calling her to a meeting without notice and refusing to allow the employee to have a support person. Three other managers were present at the meeting and when the employee attempted to speak about her grievances, the supervisor laughed at her.
  • The employee was required to perform higher duties and did not receive correct payment or entitlements for these tasks. The employee complained to HR however it was not satisfactorily resolved.
  • The supervisor’s apparent behaviour to ignore and avoid contact with the employee.

Initially the Queensland Workers Compensation Regulator had agreed with the employer and rejected the claim for compensation however this decision was set aside on appeal due to the finding that the supervisor’s actions were not ‘reasonable management action’.

The following reasons for this decision included:-

  • The supervisor yelled at the employee in a very confronting manner in front of other employees causing the employee to yell back;
  • There was no notice provided to the employee of the meeting that followed and created a power in-balance causing the employee to feel unreasonable pressure;
  • The supervisor’s failure to manage the higher duties payment. It is the supervisor’s job to know what her employees are doing whilst at work and to know what needs to occur when employees are facing additional entitlements.

It was determined that the supervisor’s actions were the major, significant contributing factor to the employee’s injury. The employer’s investigations into the complaints made by the employee regarding bullying and pay dispute were reasonable management actions however the actions by the supervisor that led to those complaints were not.

Supervisors and managers are reasonably expected to ensure that the language they use, their tone of voice and general demeanour, do not come into question when dealing with employees.

Employers are expected to consider those elements when determining if the actions taken were in fact ‘reasonable management action’.

For assistance with anything in this article, please contact us at 1300 720 004 or [email protected]

Information in HR Advice Online guides and blog posts is meant purely for educational discussion of human resources issues. It contains only general information about human resources matters and due to factors such as government legislation changes, may not be up-to-date at the time of reading. It is not legal advice and should not be treated as such.

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