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Worker loses compensation claim for ‘unfair’ deadline

A carefully planned and implemented performance management process will support a defence of reasonable management action should your worker claim compensation for a work-related psychological injury.

This has been demonstrated in Adam and Comcare (Compensation) (2017), when a Commonwealth Government worker was denied workers’ compensation for a psychological injury she suffered after working for 10 hours without a break to meet an ‘unreasonable’ deadline.

The worker’s supervisor instructed her via email to draft an evaluation report in two days. The worker confronted the supervisor, claiming:

  • the two-day deadline was not long enough;
  • it was unfair because she also had other work to do; and
  • the tone of the supervisor’s email was ‘confrontational’.

After attending a performance meeting about her failure to meet the expected deadline, the worker lodged a workers’ compensation claim, alleging that she had suffered anxiety caused by meetings, emails and directions from first and second level supervisors.

While Comcare conceded that the worker suffered from a psychological condition that her employment significantly contributed to, it rejected the claim because the condition resulted from reasonable management action taken in a reasonable manner.

Senior Member Dr James Popple of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) held that the worker’s supervisors did not force her to work 10 hours continuously; they had reasonably expected her to complete the task during normal work hours.

The AAT also found that the supervisor’s email and the following performance discussion had contributed to the injury, which constituted reasonable ‘corrective administrative actions’.

Senior Member Popple rejected the claim that the email’s ‘tone and subtext’ were unreasonable, instead finding the email was both professional in tone and imposed a reasonable timetable, and the supervisor had reasonably expressed disappointment about the progress of the report. The employer’s defence of reasonable management action was upheld and the claim for compensation denied.

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