HR 'chat' unreasonable: workers comp payable

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HR 'chat' unreasonable: workers comp payable

When an overly aggressive approach by a HR manager caused a mental injury to an employee, the ACT Supreme Court ruled that workers compensation was payable.

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When an overly aggressive approach by a HR manager caused a mental injury to an employee, the ACT Supreme Court ruled that workers compensation was payable.

[Full text of this case: C Pty Ltd v B [2015] ACTSC 18 (18 February 2015)

The employee told the Magistrates Court that her mental injury (generalised anxiety disorder and associated panic attacks with agoraphobia and major depressive disorder) arose out of or in the course of her employment. 

HR manager asked to "have a chat"


The employee testified the HR manager had come to her office on 14 March 2012 and asked, “ Can you come with me, I’d like to have a chat”. 

She also gave evidence that she asked the HR manager whether she would need to take a pen and paper, to which the reply was “No, no, it’s just a chat”.

No one else was present during the subsequent meeting but the employee gave evidence that when it commenced, the HR manager advised her that employees had made allegations or complaints about her.

The meeting went for two hours with a number of allegations and complaints canvassed.

The employee knew certain complaints had been made about her before the meeting, but at the start of the meeting she was not advised it was an investigation.

Impact on applicant


The employer argued that the HR manager had engaged in reasonable management action.

However, the employee said she felt degraded, intimidated, harassed, hurt and disbelieved. She hadn't been warned about the content of the meeting.

The employee said she told the HR manager she felt shocked and believed staff were victimising her, but was  ignored.

Magistrate Graeme Lunney, of the ACT Magistrates Court, said the employee was entitled to workers compensation for her mental injury, noting it had left her totally incapacitated for work. 

He said the employee's reaction should have alerted the HR manager to enquire about her welfare and whether she wished to continue with the meeting.

The employer appealed the magistrate's decision to the ASCT Supreme Court. 

No warning


Justice John Burns of the ACT Supreme Court said the failure to give advance warning of the issues to be raised, being complaints highly critical of the employee's work performance, was calculated to cause shock. This was compounded by the length of the meeting and the number of allegations presented without notice.

In rejecting the employer's appeal, Justice John Burns said: “Shortly put I find that the lack of warning, the continuous allegation of wrong doing for an excessive period of time and without paying heed to the applicant’s expressions of denial, upset and discontent was an unreasonable means of conducting the meeting and that that unreasonable conduct was the cause of the applicant’s injury.”

The bottom line: Whether management action was “reasonable management action” is often litigated. The concept of acting in a reasonable manner underpins this concept and employers should be careful to act in a fair and even-handed manner to avoid adverse findings.

C Pty Ltd v B [2015] ACTSC 18 (18 February 2015)
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