The Facts

Worker acquires psychological injury after being bullied by employer

A worker was recruited by an employer following a history of successful employment with multiple high-level companies. He was employed by the employer as a Senior Director, Product Marketing from December 2012 until July 2013.

During his employment, the worker alleged multiple difficulties with his immediate superior. He said that she bullied him, had a negative attitude towards him and criticised his work. She would not provide him with information to assist with his work, was rude to him in their conversations, and excluded him from conversations with other management staff and from meetings.

This treatment resulted in psychological injury to the worker. In January 2013, he began experiencing symptoms similar to vertigo, even while he was merely sitting at his desk. He also suffered from panic attacks and dizziness and would sometimes collapse.

On multiple occasions at work, he would struggle to get to the bathroom, having to lean on walls to get there, and eventually vomiting.

Worker has multiple jobs punctuated by periods of incapacity for work

In July 2013, the worker finished his employment with the employer.

He did not work again until March 2014, claiming that his psychological injury made him incapable of working.

In March 2014 he started contract work with another organisation, where he worked until July 2015, when his contract was terminated.

The worker did not work between July 2015 and April 2016, again claiming that his psychological injury made him incapable of working.

In April 2016, he commenced employment with a third organisation.

Worker lodges workers compensation claim

On 11 April 2016, the worker made a workers compensation claim, alleging that he had suffered a psychological injury during the course of his employment with the employer.

He sought weekly compensation benefits for the two periods during which he could not work. Period 1was from 1 December 2013 to 2 March 2014. Period 2 was from 1 October 2015 to 18 April 2016.

The worker claimed that he was entitled to this compensation under section 33 of the NSW Workers Compensation Act 1987, on the basis that he had suffered periodic total or partial incapacity for work resulting from his psychological injury.

Employer disputes worker's claim and parties go to arbitration

The employer's insurer accepted that the worker had sustained a psychological injury during the course of his employment.

However, the insurer did not accept that the worker had suffered total or partial incapacity for work.

The parties therefore went before an arbitrator at the Workers Compensation Commission to resolve this dispute.

case a - The case for the worker

case b - The case for the employer

  • In order to claim weekly compensation benefits for periods 1 and 2, the law requires that I establish that my workplace injury resulted in an incapacity or partial incapacity to return to work in suitable employment during those time periods. My medical history clearly establishes this.
  • Although I suffered from vertigo prior to joining the employer, it was many years ago and the incidents were isolated, with complete recovery. The medical evidence in this case confirms that the anxiety and depression I suffered at the employer's workplace were a contributing factor to the vertigo I suffer from now.
  • From the date I left the employer, through to March 2014 (period 1), I continued to be very sick, suffering episodic vertigo and vomiting. My GP's consultation notes confirm that I also suffered from a tight chest, headaches and increased heart rate. I also went to numerous neurologist appointments and had a brain CT scan in an attempt to pinpoint the reason for my symptoms.
  • I did contract work for a different employer from March 2014 to October 2015, but while there, my injury continued to plague me. I had panic attacks, vomiting and a sensation that the room was spinning. Sometimes I would even collapse. There were numerous times when other workers accompanied me to a cab to take me home.
  • In July 2015, my contract was terminated because I was unable to do my job properly due to my injury.
  • After that, I continued to experience vertigo attacks and anxiety-related dizziness and was too ill to work during period 2. I also had ruminations about the manager who had bullied me at the employer. I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with major depressive disorder and I was prescribed antidepressants. I also saw a neurologist who diagnosed me with psycho-physiological dizziness syndrome.
  • Given that my injury at the employer resulted in an inability to return to work in suitable employment during periods 1 and 2, the arbitrator should grant my claim for weekly compensation benefits.
  • We dispute that the worker had no capacity or a limited capacity for work during periods 1 and 2.
  • Any incapacity to work alleged by the worker was not caused by the injury he sustained in our employment. He already had bouts of vertigo before he commenced work with us.
  • In March 2014, after leaving us, the worker found suitable full-time employment. The fact that he was able to return to work at that point demonstrates that he had capacity to work in suitable employment, despite any ongoing symptoms.
  • Also, as a matter of common sense, if the worker was capable of working full-time from March 2014, then he had at least a residual capacity to work in suitable employment for some time prior to that date (ie during period 1). Capacity to undertake work does not change overnight from zero work capacity to current work capacity on a full-time basis.
  • Further, contrary to any claims of deterioration, during period 1 the worker participated fully in recreational activities and family life. An article in the Northern District Times dated 26 March 2014 shows that the worker had coached his daughter's football team to victory in a local competition. In October 2014, the worker received second place in the City of Ryde's Spring Garden Competition.
  • In relation to period 2, the worker has given no satisfactory explanation as to why his work capacity went from full-time in September 2015 to zero in October 2015. He says that his contract was terminated because he was not properly performing his job due to his injury. However, the evidence does not support this claim. In his performance review, his employer gave him a five out of five for attendance and four out of five for contribution towards the success of the project he was working on. The review noted that he delivered to deadlines as required and was driven to deliver for customers, the product and channel, and was a good fit for the team.
  • The only medical record in evidence relating to any incapacity during period 2 records that the worker's symptoms were improving.
  • Finally, the worker has given no explanation as to why his supposed inability to work is related to his original injury. Period 2 occurred over three years after he ceased working for us, and follows a full-time contract with a separate employer, for a period of over one and a half years.
  • Given the evidence, the arbitrator must reject the worker's claim for compensation in relations to periods 1 and 2.

So, which case won?

Cast your judgment below to find out

Michael Greene
Workers compensation
Stacks Goudkamp

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