Damages in excess of $1 million has been awarded to an employee injured as a result of bullying, harassment and a breach of the duty of care owed by employers to employees.
What were the circumstances of the case?
Our client was employed as a full-time boilermaker with Melsteel. In 2009 he had an accepted WorkCover claim for stress resultant from bullying by his supervisor, whom he alleged pushed him and verbally abused him. He took four days off and then returned to full-time work. Upon his return to work he was assigned the same supervisor.
Throughout 2009 and early 2010, our client continued to complain of bullying by his co-workers and his supervisor. Little, if anything, was done by Melsteel in response to these complaints.
In August 2010 our client was again assaulted by the same supervisor whom he alleged previously assaulted him in 2009. Our client was struck in the face three times and attended his doctor with a fat lip and complained of neck pain. Melsteel denied the assault occurred. Our client made a further WorkCover claim which was rejected.
In 2013, this WorkCover claim was eventually accepted as a result of Court action initiated in the Magistrates Court by Adviceline Injury Lawyers. Ultimately, our client developed a psychiatric injury and also a physical injury to his neck. He underwent six electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments and neck surgery. He has not worked since August 2010 and continues to be plagued by depression and physical pain and restriction emanating from his neck.
The case itself
This case ran for 4.5 weeks in the Supreme Court of Victoria. Melsteel vehemently denied the allegations of bullying and harassment and said that it did all it was required to do as a proper employer. Our client found the courage to give evidence and stand up to his employer. A jury of six returned a unanimous verdict in his favour.
We are proud of our client for his courage and acknowledge that this verdict is much more than just money. This verdict represents an acknowledgment from the community of our client's value and worth and his right to be treated fairly in the workplace.
What does this case mean for injured workers?
It confirms that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated in the workplace.
If an employee is bullied and harassed in the workplace, the employer will be liable for the damage which flows from that bullying and harassment. It is also a reminder to employers that they have an obligation to an employee to look after an employee's mental health, particularly when on notice of an employee suffering psychologically.
If an employee makes their employer aware of psychiatric ill health, the law says that an employer must act reasonably to protect against any further psychiatric harm occurring to that employee. In this regard, the law requires an employer to take positive steps to protect the psychiatric well-being of its employees.
When an employee suffers a psychiatric injury because of events at their workplace, it can be difficult for that employee to know what to do and who to talk to.
At Adviceline Injury Lawyers we assist employees navigate the WorkCover system so that they can achieve financial security and access to optimal medical treatment. We will also ensure that employers who breach workplace laws and cause injuries to employees are brought to account and made to pay fair and appropriate compensation.
For an obligation free discussion, call our friendly team on (03) 9321 9988.