CASES HANDLED

ARE YOU A VICTIM OF BULLYING AT WORK?

You may be entitled to worker's compensation. But what kind of bullying?
You may have recently read an article in a number of state and national newspapers about a worker's compensation case we won regarding bullying in the workplace, Taylor v QCOMP. In this case, our client was an office worker in a local school who experienced several acts of bullying in 2010 by fellow office staff. This led to her developing a severe psychological injury which adversely affected her capacity to work. She subsequently filed a WorkCover Qld claim and it was eventually brought before the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) last year. So what sorts of acts were considered bullying in this case?

1) Insulting email
One of the office staff emailed our client an email simply saying, "Hope to say out loud, "hope ya choke". Our client suffered from Bronchiectasis, which is a condition similar to asthma and bronchitis. Needless to say, receiving this email after just suffering from a coughing fit shocked and affected her. It was later revealed at the trial that the staff member who sent the email sent it to our client by accident. She had meant to send it to another staff member. This was not a one-off occurrence. It was also revealed at the trial that the two staff members had been sending to each other several insulting emails about our client. This helped establish that the two staff members involved were intentionally malevolent towards our client.

2) Name calling and phone recording
Another two incidents happened. One was where a staff member called our client a "nasty, nasty person". The other incident was where a staff member gave the impression that a phone left in the office was recording their conversations. Needless to say, these incidents cumulatively took their toll on our client. This was not a normal or healthy workplace environment. Our client was being subjected to bullying-type behavior.

3) Social exclusion
The final nail in the coffin so to speak was the two staff members choosing to ignore our client and exclude her from all workplace conversations. As the Deputy President explained in his decision, the staff member's own evidence that she made a "conscious and deliberate decision to withdraw from any interaction with [our client](other than professional interactions) was quite damning. It was confirmation that she had decided to adopt a course of action which meant that she was embarking upon bullying-type behaviour in relation to [our client]. She ignored [our client]. She excluded her from conversations by waiting until she left the room, after which she would engage with [the other staff member]. She rebuffed [our client's] offers to make her tea or coffee - always saying that she would make her own. She deliberately chose to leave the office at lunch time rather than remain in the office with [our client]. It was classic bullying-type behaviour."

What this case demonstrates is that the traditional forms of bullying such as physical violence and direct threats are not the only types of valid bullying behavior. The more indirect forms such as deliberately ignoring and excluding someone are also considered bullying. However, even if you have experienced similar behavior, it is not simply enough to prove that you were bullied. You must ultimately prove the following under the Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 ("the Act"):
  • You are a worker
  • You suffered an injury;
  • The injury arose out of or in the course of your employment;
  • Your employment was a significant contributing factor to the injury; and
  • The injury is not excluded under section 32(5) of the Act.
In particular, we note you will need to prove that the bullying at work caused you to suffer an injury and that the bullying behavior significantly contributed to your injury. In our client's case, the QIRC was satisfied that our client proved each of these requirements and accepted her worker's compensation application.

If you think you are entitled to worker's compensation, you must lodge an application with WorkCover Qld within 6 months of the date of your injury. Therefore, since time is of the essence, if you would like to discuss your workplace injury or any other employment issues then immediately contact Max Williams of Platinum Lawyers who will be happy to assist you.




COMMISSION FINDS OFFICE WORKER BULLIED, EXCLUDED AND AWARDS COMPENSATION

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