Worker wins $1.7m after relentless harassment from CEO

13 September 2017

A former nursing director of the Cape York Health Service has been awarded $1.7 million in damages, after maltreatment from her district CEO forced the employee into medical retirement.

The employee was repeatedly “harassed, mistreated, devalued and undermined” by the CEO for 11 months in 2010, and resultantly in early 2011 she was diagnosed with chronic adjustment disorder, anxiety and depression. The employee never returned to work and retired by 2014.

The managerial mistreatment by the CEO included: loudly and publicly humiliating the employee, glibly dismissing her requests for further information, isolating her from her colleagues and undermining her abilities.

Queensland Supreme Court Justice, James Henry found that this type of behaviour is the kind typically listed as harassment in workplace harassment human resources policies and is something that the employer should have both recognised and stopped.

The CEO’s unjustified blaming, humiliation, belittling, isolation, undermining and contemptuous disregard of the manager is akin to workplace bullying and harassment”, said Justice Henry.

Thus, Justice Henry found that in failing to intervene to prevent the CEO’s conduct, the employer had breached its duty to take reasonable care to avoid psychiatric injury to the employee, and was vicariously liable for the CEO’s actions.

All in all, this serves as a powerful lesson that in an era where workplace bullying and harassment is well-known to cause serious psychological harm, it is much more likely than not that any form of harassment will be seen as creating a “foreseeable and not insignificant risk of psychiatric harm”, and thus negligence on the part of the employer will be likely to be proven.