Further to yesterday’s horrible story about how a WorkSafe inspector conducted herself when an injured worker asked for an investigation into workplace bullying, we dug a little deeper and stumbled on this legal case whereby an investigator accused a worker of being in a homosexual relationship with the manager! The worker said the accusation was false and that it made her feel distressed and discriminated against. She subsequently made a successful psychological injury claim.
Workplace investigation goes awry and causes psych injury
A case in how how not to manage a misconduct investigation.
The Queensland Industrial Relations Commission heard that in April 2010 a Mackay Base Hospital worker [the worker] had been called as a “witness” in an investigation into complaints made against the female manager who hired her.
The hospital’s CEO had told the worker that the investigation was not about her and that she should not be concerned about it. Because of this “reassurance”, the worker did not bring a support person along to the interview.
However, it turned out that, in the interview, an “independent” investigator actually accused the worker of being in a homosexual relationship with the manager!
The IR Commission heard from the worker that the accusation (of being in a homosexual relationship) was untrue and that the worker was consequently feeling distressed about (this allegation) and felt “quite discriminated” against.
The worker has subsequently lodged a workers compensation claim for psychological injury, which Q-Comp [workcover Queensland] accepted, however the worker’s employer [Queensland Health] appealed this!
Mr Fisher, the Commissioner heard at the hearing that there had been an earlier inquiry into allegations and that the manager had taken “reprisal actions” against “another employee”, and that rumours had it that the manager was in a relationship with the worker. The manager had apparently failed to disclose the relationship when hiring the worker and had asked for the worker to be rostered off so she could take her on a holiday.
In its defense, the hospital (Queensland Health) argues hat the interview questions put to the aggrieved worker were “necessary and reasonable” and that they were not an “inquiry into the worker’s sex life”.
However, Commissioner Fisher found the accusations made against the manager were serious enough to involve police, and that the CEO had made a “fanciful distinction” that was “at best, misleading” in telling the worker the investigation “is not about you”.
Fisher also found the (aggrieved) worker had not been in a position to make an “informed decision” when she declined the offer of a support person, and that it was unclear what “authority or information” the investigator was acting on.
Commissioner Fisher stated that the CEO should have properly disclosed the issues to be raised before the interview, and provided the worker with a letter that stated:
- “You are to be asked questions of an extremely personal nature and questions that may well involve a reference of your case to the Queensland Police Service,”
- “You are hereby advised that you should have a support person present,” and
- “You should seek to be informed of the issues prior to answering any questions whatsoever.”
“The reality was that the subject matter of the allegations directly impacted on [the worker] both in terms of her continued employment with the hospital and in terms of her personal relationships being put under scrutiny by her employer,” the Commissioner said.
You can read the full case here: State of Queensland (Queensland Health) AND Q-COMP and Tracy Connors (WC/2010/173) (1 February 2012)