We recently held a seminar for clients in the aged and health care sector on bullying, harassment and work related violence risks in the workplace. At this seminar we discussed how to manage these risks to prevent physical and psychological harm and injury in the workplace.
A recent decision in the Queensland Court of Appeal highlights the importance of ensuring control measures are implemented to prevent bullying behaviour in the workplace.
Eaton v TriCare (Country) Pty Ltd  QCA 139 (3 June 2016)
In this case, a nursing home was found vicariously liable for the bullying behaviour of the manager of the nursing home towards an administrative assistant. The nursing home was ordered to pay the employee $436,000 in damages for a psychiatric injury.
The employee was subject to bullying conduct by the manager over approximately a 12 month period. The manager's conduct constituted a breach of the respondent's duty of care. The bullying conduct, in the context of the employee's excessive workload, caused the development of a psychiatric illness and she resigned from her employment.
The Court of Appeal found that the employer breached its duty of care through the manager and was vicariously liable. Its legal responsibility was to “take reasonable care to avoid a risk of a psychiatric injury to the appellant in the circumstance that she was exhibiting a particular vulnerability…. Reasonable care required that the manager not behave towards the appellant in a harassing and belittling fashion. That had a real likelihood of causing such stress to the appellant that in her vulnerable condition, she would develop a psychiatric illness.”
This case demonstrates the importance of implementing controls to manage the risk of bullying in the workplace. It is critical for providers to address any apparent tension between management and staff in the workplace to ensure it does not escalate into bullying which may expose workers to unncessary risks of harm and injury and potential legal proceedings against the provider.
If you would like to discuss this case further, please contact the authors.