​Claim of work-caused anorexia didn’t carry enough weight to succeed

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​Claim of work-caused anorexia didn’t carry enough weight to succeed

A woman’s claim that her stressful work environment and excessive workload triggered a relapse of her anorexia condition has failed before the Commonwealth Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

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A woman’s claim that her stressful work environment and excessive workload triggered a relapse of her anorexia condition has failed before the Commonwealth Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

While the tribunal found there was a link between her work and the condition, she did not lodge her claim within the time frame required, and the tribunal rejected her claim that her obligation to meet that requirement was excused by a cognitive impairment associated with the condition.
 

Facts of case


The employee was a high school teacher. She first developed anorexia as a teenager, but was aged 55 when she made her claim that dealing with difficult students and lack of support for teachers triggered a relapse. She claimed that the school failed to act on her complaints, increased her workload and created a toxic working environment. After about four years in the job, her weight fell to about 35kg and she was hospitalised.  She was off work for almost three years, and eventually lodged a claim more than two years after returning to work. The diagnosis was anorexia nervosa, or chronic eating disorder.

The employee claimed that her weight loss was so severe that she suffered from an “emaciated brain” and that this impaired her cognitive function, making her unable to realise that her work was aggravating her eating disorder. Therefore, she claimed to be covered by the exceptions clause relating to notification periods for injuries. The employer disagreed, arguing that she had failed to notify her injury as soon as she became aware of its recurrence (as required by the legislation), and also that her injury affected her work, not the other way around.

The AAT determined that the employee suffered aggravation of her condition in 2007, one year after commencing work at the school, but did not lodge a claim until 2015. A gap of this length was prejudicial to the employer’s position.
 

The decision


The AAT, confirming Comcare’s earlier decision, found that her employment circumstances contributed significantly to the aggravation of a pre-existing condition. However, it rejected her claim of ignorance, finding that she was knowledgable about anorexia and its relationship with work stress. She therefore would have been well aware that stress caused her eating disorder to flare up. Two doctors gave evidence that it was unlikely that cognitive impairment of a nature that prevented her from notifying an injury could have occurred. Also, her weight had returned to a near-normal level well before she lodged her claim.

Therefore, the employee did not have a reasonable excuse for missing the time limit for notification and could not claim ignorance, and the AAT added that the “cognitive impairment” claim appeared to be concocted.

The bottom line: The employee claimed to be ignorant of the possibility that a stressful working environment could contribute to aggravation of a condition she had intermittently suffered from for 30-40 years. The Tribunal found that she would have accumulated considerable knowledge and awareness of the causes and effects of anorexia and been able to identify any link between the condition and her employment situation. Therefore, “ignorance was no excuse” here.
 

Read the judgment


Di Carlo-Casablanca v Australian Capital Territory (Compensation) [2019] AATA 4772, 15 November 2019 

 
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