Unreasonably Conducted Meeting Injures Worker

6 September 2017

An unreasonably conducted ‘counselling session’ for a psychologically injured Australian Federal Police (“AFP”) worker has resulted in compensation and costs awarded.

The AFP worker claimed compensation for chronic adjustment disorder and depression sustained during her deployment to Papua New Guinea in early 2014, as a direct result of the treatment by her team leader. Comcare initially denied liability, determining that her condition arose from reasonable ‘one-on-one’ meetings.

However, the worker successfully appealed to the Administrative Appeal Tribunal, explaining how the team leader constantly “watched, monitored and scrutinised” her behaviour, with it all “[coming] to a head” during an unexpected ‘counselling session’ in 2014.

The team leader conducted the ‘counselling session’ after concerns that the worker was inappropriately interfering with PNG police operations and was undermining another AFP officer.

Member Regina Perton found that based on his conclusions, the team leader’s decision to conduct the ‘counselling session’ constituted suitable and reasonable administrative practice, even though the conclusions were incorrect.

It was manner in which the session was conducted which posed the problem.

The worker told Member Perton that she was asked to stay behind after a team meeting, with no warning or opportunity to invite a nominated support person. Then, during the meeting the team leader stood over her, raised his voice, and berated her whilst she “sobbed with her head in her hands”. Further, when she attempted to leave the room, the team leader threatened her employment.

Member Perton held that considering the worker’s injuries would not have been sustained if the meeting had not taken place in the manner in which it did, the team leader’s conduct was entirely unreasonable and the worker was entitled to compensation and costs.

This serves as an important reminder to employers, that if psychological injuries are a result of administrative action, the employee will only be disentitled to worker’s compensation if the meeting is conducted in a suitable and reasonable matter.