Employer wins reasonable action appeal

Cases

Employer wins reasonable action appeal

An SA company has been granted a retrial over a worker’s psychological injury claim, with a Full Bench of the Workers Compensation Tribunal ruling the Magistrate failed provide adequate reasons for her decision.

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An SA company has been granted a retrial over a worker’s psychological injury claim, with a Full Bench of the Workers Compensation Tribunal ruling the Magistrate failed provide adequate reasons for her decision.

An employee of NRG Flinders Operating Services Pty Ltd claimed he suffered a compensable psychological injury arising out of his employment over a period of time from June 2003 to June 2003.

He claimed a newly appointed supervisor caused him to suffer depression and anxiety, due to his unfair criticisms, poor communication and management. The employer argued that disciplinary action taken was reasonable.

Attempts to return to work were unsuccessful and a psychiatrist certified the worker was unfit for work. He has not returned to work for NRG since.

A claim for compensation was rejected by the company which argued the worker’s injury arose out of an exclusionary provision under s30 of the SA Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1986. NRG said the supervisor’s behaviour towards the worker was ‘reasonable action taken in a reasonable manner’.

First trial

The Magistrate ruled the worker was entitled to compensation because the ‘unresolved personality conflict’ between the two workers could not be characterised as administrative action as it falls outside ‘the workings or functioning of the workplace’.

She went on to say that if ‘the interaction between the two men is broken down and that part of Mr Miller’s conduct that caused Mr Amato’s disorder is analysed, it cannot be properly described as administrative action’.

NRG appealed the decision, claiming the Magistrate had not taken into account the inconsistencies in the events submitted by the worker and that the series of identifiable stressors had in fact been reasonable management action, such as a performance review.

The company contended the Magistrate did not give sufficient reasons for her decision.

No reason given, retrial ordered

In a unanimous decision, Justices McCouaig, Cawthorne and Lieschke agreed with NRG and found the Magistrate had not provided adequate reasons for her decision in the employee’s favour by failing to:

  • provide adequate reasons so as to disclose the process of reasoning by which she determined the matter
  • identify the conduct of Mr Miller (supervisor) that she found to be the cause of the worker’s psychiatric disorder
  • give reasons for concluding that that conduct could not be properly described as administrative action
  • give adequate reasons for concluding that a personality conflict between the worker and Mr Miller could not be characterised as administrative action
  • give adequate reasons for finding that the worker’s evidence of events in the workplace was to be preferred over that of NRG’s witnesses

The appeal was upheld and dispute was remitted for retrial.

Flinders Power Operating Services Pty Ltd (formerly NRG Flinders Operating Services Pty Ltd) v Amato [2007] SAWCT 33

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