The recent Victorian case of Roussety v Castricum
Brothers1 should caution employers that an employer
owes a duty to take reasonable care to avoid any foreseeable risk
of injury arising from an employee's circumstances of
employment. In particular, it warns of the dangers of cost cutting
without having regard to the effect on existing employees.
Mr Roussety was a long term employee of Castricum Brothers. In
2004 he was promoted to manager of the rendering plant. He agreed
to long hours and be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
However, following a big reduction in staff numbers, including
the full-time maintenance manager, the conditions of the rendering
plant, and the conditions of Roussety's employment deteriorated
Roussety gave evidence that he was required to work in excess of
55, and up to 91 hours a week and that he was required to remain
on-call at all times, including during his honeymoon in Mauritius.
The additional stress and the pressure led to insomnia and
cumulated in Roussety fainting at work in February 2007, followed
by extended absences from his role.
A number of employees observed a significant change in
Roussety's demeanour from being 'always happy' and
'a good bloke' to becoming stressed, tired and 'on
edge'. Even senior management conceded a significant change in
Roussety's character during his time as manager.
In July 2007 senior management required Roussety to stay at work
even though he had worked extensive hours the previous weekend.
Roussety was later found by the Nurse on the floor of the rendering
plant complaining of chest pains. Roussety did not return to work
after this, and was subsequently made redundant.
Roussety alleged that these conditions resulted in him
developing a psychiatric injury, including major depression.
Was there a Foreseeable Risk of Psychiatric Injury to
The Court accepted Roussety's evidence that he reported
problems of staffing and maintenance; that he requested a break
from being on call 24 hours a day; that he complained to senior
management about work related stress; and that he presented as
withdrawn to colleagues.
Consequently the Court accepted that the senior management were
'on notice' that Roussety was at risk of psychiatric injury
after his first collapse at work.
What was the Employer's Duty of Care?
In the circumstances of a reasonably foreseeable risk of
Roussety developing a psychiatric illness due to his workload, the
Court held that a 'reasonable person' would have taken
steps to minimise the risk, including:
modify his workload;
reduce or remove his on-call duties;
monitor the hours he was required to work;
increase the staff at the rendering plant; and
provide him with support and direct that he take any sick leave
he required or time off work if he had worked particularly long
Did the Employer Breach its Duty of Care?
The Judge said Castricum Brother's lack of response
"beggars belief." In response to Roussety's
complaints the Operations Manager conceded that she had grown tired
of his complaints and that she had taken them with a "grain of
salt"; in response to Roussety fainting she conceded that she
had "reservations" about the "alleged
collapse"; and following Roussety's absence from work
senior management did not enquire about his welfare, nor did they
make any meaningful changes to his working hours.
Not surprisingly, the Court found that Castricum Brothers had
breached its duty of care by: a) not putting in place measures to
prevent him from working excessive hours from February 2007
onwards; and b) telling him to keep working on July 2007.
A Cautionary Tale
Damages are yet to be determined in this matter. However, it is
evident that Castricum Brothers' short sighted cost cutting
measures will cost them in the long run, not least in significant
Supreme Court legal expenses. Castricum Brothers could have avoided
legal fees and future damages had it implemented proper employee
This case highlights that employers need to monitor the effects
of workplace structural changes and workloads. Proper policies,
procedures and training for management and supervisory personnel is
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1Joseph Roussety v Castricum
Brothers Pty Ltd  VSC 466.
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