Worker wins compensation for joke made at his expense

By Portner Press on March 1st, 2019
  1. Fire, Emergency & Incidents
  2. Workers' Compensation

 

In Paschalis v RTWSA & McMahon Services Australia Pty Ltd (2018) a worker who was left humiliated after a practical joke was played on him was awarded workers’ compensation when an employment tribunal found that he was “seriously injured” by the prank.

In the incident, the industrial painter discovered that a co-worker had graffitied male genitals and a heart symbol on his hard hat.

The worker noticed his colleagues laughing at him after he had been wearing his hat for about an hour.

He thought he had walked past up to 100 people before he discovered the graffiti and said that he was “pissed off, shattered, angry and humiliated”. He approached two colleagues he suspected were involved in the prank, who denied responsibility and laughed at him. He then reported the incident to a supervisor and did not return to work after the event.

On the following Saturday morning, he received a phone call from one of the workers he accused of playing the prank, who strongly criticised him for making a complaint to the supervisor, as this resulted in the other worker getting into trouble. The insulted worker reported this call to the supervisor as well.

Later that same day, he saw the two co-workers at the supermarket. He said he felt snubbed and as though everyone knew about the incident, causing him to feel depressed and not leave his house and start drinking heavily.

During this time he said his marriage of 18 years broke down.

“About six days after the event I had half a bottle of vodka in my van, which I drank in one mouthful; went back inside the house. I was watching TV when my wife at the time approached me and said “You need to snap the f… out of this. Get over it. It was just a joke.” I lost it. Argued with her; and then she told me I needed to leave; she can’t deal with this anymore, because she sided with the town. When I needed her the most she turned against me,” he said. The couple later divorced.

After he left the house, the worker faced two lengthy periods of hospitalisation and remained under the care of a psychiatrist.

The worker cited concerns of being viewed as a homosexual and being called derogatory names by his co-workers.

His employer investigated the incident and directed the co-worker responsible for the graffiti to apologise. However, the worker was not notified of this and did not receive any apology.

The worker’s doctor noted how distressed he was after the incident and diagnosed him with an acute “adjustment disorder with [an] anxious and depressed mood that is significantly exacerbated by his very prominent angry ruminations”.

Expert evidence was also obtained from a psychiatrist, who described the worker’s injury as a major depressive disorder with psychotic features.

The South Australian Employment Tribunal accepted the expert evidence and held that the breakdown of the worker’s marriage was substantially contributed to by the work-related injury which also led to the subsequent breakdown of his relationship with his children.

As a “seriously injured worker” the Tribunal found he was entitled to workers’ compensation.

Lessons for employers

This case demonstrates how important it is for employers to follow the correct procedure in carrying out their health and safety duties.

In this instance, the employer failed to notify the worker of its investigation and ensure others were adequately disciplined.

Learn more in the following chapters of Health & Safety Handbook:

H2 Harassment

B1 Bullying

W1 Workers’ Compensation

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