Do Actions Warrant a Reaction? Liability & Harassment in the Workplace

29 January 2018

Introduction

A worker’s serious and wilful misconduct by way of taunting a co-worker, which led to the co-worker assaulting the claimant, has been deemed reason enough to warrant the rejection of the worker’s compensation claim.

In finding against the worker, the Industrial Relations Commission of Queensland (IRC) described the worker’s actions as a “deliberate course of misconduct with knowledge that his conduct was wrong and likely to cause danger to himself.”

Facts

The worker was at the conclusion of a shift as an excavator operator in February 2016 when he was assaulted by his co-worker in the car park of OneSteel Recycling Proprietary Ltd (Employer). He sustained face, neck, chest and arm injuries as a result of the incident, and both individuals were dismissed.

Claims

The worker sought compensation from the Workers Compensation Regulator. At first instance, his claim was upheld despite his Employer denying liability.

On appeal to the IRC, the Employer argued that the worker’s injuries were caused by his wilful bullying, harassment and intimidation of his co-worker with the intention of inducing retaliation.

The Regulator argued the worker had no history suggesting as such, nor any violent tendencies, and sought to distance the worker from any notion that he intended to invoke such a reaction.

Findings

But the IRC found against the worker. In doing so, evidence that the worker had consistently taunted the co-worker was considered, with emphasis placed on the crude nature of the verbal harassment.

The IRC considered that the worker had repeatedly called him a “OneSteel bitch“, ostensibly due to being promoted. The worker was also aware that his co-worker was very angry and open to such taunting.

Subsequently, the worker’s injuries were found to be directly linked to his own serious and wilful misconduct, and accordingly, his claim was blocked.

Considerations Moving Forward

Although the worker was held to be responsible for his own actions, it is important for employers to ensure safe and, to the greatest extent possible, conflict free working environments. Hentys Lawyers are experts in Occupational Health and Safety matters, and are also specialists in termination and employment advice.

Please contact Hentys for our assistance on any such matters to ensure your company’s full legal compliance, prevention and risk management.