Comcare claim for psychological injury rejected – a Westpac banking case

In this Tasmanian Comcare [popup url=’http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/tas/TASWRCT/2011/1.html ‘] case [/popup], a Westpac call centre worker abandoned her employment after two “verbal exchanges” with her superiors, after which she claimed a workers compensation claim for psychological stress. However, the injured worker was not entitled to compensation in this case, as her superiors were found to have taken “reasonable administrative action”….

Comcare claim for psychological injury rejected – a Westpac banking case

Psychological injury – What happened

On 27 September 2006, a team of call centre workers had their usual weekly meeting to discuss their team performance. One of the workers had not been able to meet her targets (KPIs) as she had been off work the week before because of ill health and therefore had not been able to make many calls.

Apparently the “under-performing” worker was then asked by her team leader, in a rather abrupt manner, what her focus would be in the next week. The workers had replied something along the lines of “just getting to work”. Her team leader then sharply criticized her for giving such an inappropriate response (WTF!) and the worker became very upset, angry and, yes, lost her temper. She actually felt harassed by her team leader, and by a business coach and a rather heated verbal exchange ensued, after which the worker walked out.

On 13 March 2007, and after a period of  incapacity, followed by a gradual return to work plan, the aggrieved worker was again approached by her supervisor and told that she ought to be performing her work duties and not be on a break. This then resulted in yet another argument, after which the worker left and did not return.

Her employment was also terminated based on the basis of employment abandonment!

Workers compensation for psychological (dis)stress

In February 2009, the aggrieved worker claimed for compensation for psychological distress as a result of having been victimised and harassed by her team leader in September 2006. The workers claimed compensation for psychological distress according to the [ppup url=’http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/tas/consol_act/wraca1988400/ ‘]Tasmanian Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988.[/popup]

The matter was referred to the Tasmanian Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Tribunal.

The Tasmanian Tribunal then examined the following carefully:

  • whether the aggrieved worker had sustained an injury from the September 2006 incident
  • whether the comments and actions taken by the supervisors had been reasonable
  • and whether the worker was entitled to compensation

The injured worker had been prescribed and on medication for depression from 2000 to end 2005. Since end 2005 she was no longer on anti-depressants, however she was not doing well and continued to have difficulties coping with stresses at work. Also, evidence from a clinical psychologist indicated that the injured worker had relationship difficulties and had had suicidal thoughts.

According to statements, the injured worker was very familiar with the weekly performance meetings and the inherent requirements thereof. She was also aware of the need to provide a factual report on the previous week’s performance and set priorities for the next week’s work. However, the worker had not prepared the required document for reporting her results at the meeting of 27 September 2006. [Wow, wow, wow… wasn’t she sick?]

In this case, the tribunal concluded that there had been many matters within the worker’s life causing her emotional and psychological concern, although her mental condition had not significantly manifested itself to clinical significance until the September 2006 incident.

They agreed that her incapacitating condition was either an injury or the exacerbation of a pre-existing disease and had been caused by her employment.

However, although the team leader’s public harsh criticism of the worker at the meeting may have been embarrassing, the tribunal accepted that the worker’s response had been such that her superiors had been obliged to take issue and to highlight to the worker as well as to other team members “what was expected of them”; and as such the comments the team leader, the business coach and the supervisor had made amounted to “reasonable administrative action taken in a reasonable manner“. Compensation was therefore not payable to the worker. [WTF!]

 

Read the full case [popup url=’http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/tas/TASWRCT/2011/1.html ‘]M v Westpac Banking Corporation (Ref No 70/2009) [2011] TASWRCT 1 (25 January 2011)[/popup]

 

However, more and more cases are being successful – read more>>

Shortlink: http://workcovervictimsdiary.com/?p=6496

 

 

3 Responses to “Comcare claim for psychological injury rejected – a Westpac banking case”

  1. Yep, it’s totally ridiculous and many said “KPIs” are not even “measurable”. I know of someone who has to have “6 meetings per week” – now how are those “meetings” measured? What is a “meeting”? Wouldn’t it be better to focus on a target, i.e. a monthly $ target (sales) rather than “you have to make/have so many calls or meetings per week”. Also, as this case shows, this worker has been off on sick leave – surely she could be exempt for failing to have prepared her “report” on this one occasion? What about other unforeseen commitments, issues – you are so right, John, people are being treated like robots, machines, disposable commodities and some will be sacked although they may perform really well (but not meet certain ridiculous KPIs)…

    workcovervictim May 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm
  2. Considerable research now shows that the ever-increasing drive for efficiency, work intensification, and reliance on performance-related reward systems lead to an increase in bullying, resulting in inappropriate and abusive conduct by managers and often co-workers.  This sounds like one of those cases.

    The obsession with KPI’s is one such example of a so-called rational system.   Managers have lost sight of people and relate to them as machines.  This allows management to be technically right, but morally wrong – especially when in comes to ‘reasonable management action.  It is insane and wrong.