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Case Summary

When is a psychological workplace injury compensable?

Deshong v Workers’ Compensation Regulator [2021] QIRC 205
For the purposes of workers compensation legislation across Australia:
  • An injury includes a disease that arises out of, or in, the course of employment unless the injury arose wholly or predominantly as a result of reasonable management action taken in a reasonable manner in respect of the employee’s employment.
  • disease is an ailment or an aggravation of an ailment where it was contributed to, to a significant degree, by the employee’s employment (significant contribution test). A significant degree means a degree that is substantially more than material. The same test applies across Australia, although the wording of the different Acts varies.
  • Management action includes performance appraisals, counselling, suspension, disciplinary action and the like. It can also include an employee’s failure to obtain a promotion, a reclassification, transfer or benefit.
Nes Demir
Published:

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In the case of Deshong v Workers’ Compensation Regulator [2021] QIRC 205, an employee received a direction not to attend work at a particular location after she had fractured her shoulder, as her physical limitations prevented her from safely undertaking the travel required.

When she was cleared to return to work, the employee raised concern she would face false gossip surrounding her absence and ‘semi-hostile conditions’ because she had made various workplace complaints. Her employer assured her the complaints she had made remained confidential and there had been no negative comments concerning her absence. She was advised any such gossip or hostility would be investigated and addressed in accordance with the relevant policies and procedures.

The employee developed a psychological injury and sought workers’ compensation, claiming the above direction was a ‘verbal attack’ by her supervisor and that her employer had failed to take action to provide her with a safe workplace upon her impending return to work.

The Queensland Industrial Relations Commission found that although the employee’s employment was the major contributing factor to her psychological injury, the above actions fell within the reasonable management action defence, and therefore the psychological injury was not compensable.

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Lessons for Employers

  • A psychological injury is only compensable if the employment was the major significant contributing factor, rather than being simply one of a number of significant contributing factors to the injury.
  • The reasonable management action defence is limited to actions taken in respect of an employee’s employment. It does not include things that are ‘part and parcel of the employment’. For example, where the ordinary duties associated with employment lead to or aggravate an injury, the reasonable management action defence would not apply.
  • Reasonableness, for the purposes of the defence, means reasonable in all circumstances of the case.

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