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Case Summary

Managing safety risks for employees with mental health conditions

Matthews v Comcare

Safety law requires employers to monitor health, identify hazards, determine the level of risk caused by the hazard, and put controls in place to mitigate or eliminate that risk. The case of Matthews v Comcare demonstrates the importance of using safety law to manage workers compensation risk.

Kim McLagan
Published:

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  • Centrelink recognised it had a vulnerable employee (due to her poor mental health) and that a decision to re-locate her employment to a different office provided a risk to her health.
  • The employer sought to mitigate that risk by obtaining medical advice and guidance from her own psychiatrist, and from an independent psychiatrist, around how to manage her and protect her health.
  • Centrelink ignored the doctor’s advice completely and by doing so, aggravated the employee’s condition and caused further damage to her.
  • The Tribunal found the employee’s condition was exacerbated by the direct actions of the employer by its failure to heed the clear warnings given by both psychiatrists.

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Lessons for Employers

  1. Employers have an obligation to monitor the health of their employees.
  2. Particular care must be taken when an employee has a known medical condition. Are there hazards that create risk? If so, how can those hazards be eliminated?
  3. Undertake a risk assessment and/or seek medical guidance – and follow it.

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