iKeep Bookkeeping | Employer Held Liable for Workers' Compensation Despite Employee's Subjective Perceptions

Employer Held Liable for Workers’ Compensation Despite Employee’s Subjective Perceptions

A recent verdict rendered by the New South Wales Personal Injury Commission (NSWPIC) sheds light on the distinctive standards of evidence governing liability in claims pertaining to workplace bullying and harassment under both workers’ compensation laws and the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

In the case of Goodacre v Trafx Pty Ltd [2024] NSWPIC 6, the NSWPIC was tasked with assessing Trafx Pty Ltd’s (the Employer) accountability for a worker’s psychological injury.

The worker, employed on a casual basis as a Traffic Controller, allegedly suffered a psychological injury due to bullying and harassment orchestrated by the Employer. The allegations encompassed incidents involving a supervisor making inappropriate remarks of a sexual nature towards younger colleagues, accessing illicit content on the worker’s phone, and dismissing the worker’s complaints. Also, the worker claimed mistreatment after reporting workplace misconduct and endured baseless character attacks in the form of rumors.

Despite challenges mounted by the employer and insurer against the worker’s assertions, the NSWPIC determined that tangible occurrences, as perceived by the worker to have created a hostile work environment, were instrumental in causing the psychological injury. The NSWPIC underscored the standard of evidence applicable to workers’ compensation claims, wherein the mere occurrence of factual events, irrespective of the worker’s subjective interpretation, suffices to establish liability.

While the worker’s conduct within the workplace was subjected to scrutiny, including instances of misconduct, the NSWPIC maintained that the occurrence of substantial events and their perceived nature by the worker as constituting bullying and harassment were pivotal factors in the psychological injury.

This verdict underscores the nuanced standard of proof inherent in workers’ compensation claims in NSW, wherein the existence of factual events, regardless of the worker’s subjective appraisal, can render resultant psychological injuries compensable.

Employers are urged to heed the implications of this ruling and prioritize the implementation of robust mechanisms for addressing instances of workplace misconduct, thereby mitigating potential liabilities under workers’ compensation legislation.

Please note that the information provided in this summary is not intended as legal advice, and readers are encouraged to seek professional legal counsel for specific legal matters.

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