A forty three year old woman, Ms X, was working in customer service at a petrol station in Central Queensland. Over a period of two years, a male co-worker subjected her to bullying and persistent sexual harassment. Constant sexual innuendo, offensive jokes, and remarks about the woman’s appearance were the norm. The woman put up with it for a few months before finally having the courage to report it to management. Her greatest fears began to materialise. Management failed to act and brushed it under the carpet as a bit of harmless fun. They assured the woman they would speak to the male co-worker and put him on notice.
Workplace Bullying is covered by Worker’s Compensation
Whatever they did had no impact on the man’s behaviour and the bullying and offensive actions continued, almost unabated. The woman was in a bind – she needed the money and she needed the job – it had taken her a long time to secure employment in the small coastal town and apart from this one person, her job was otherwise fine. She tried as hard as she could to block the offensive behaviour out, but over time, the inevitable happened – she gradually developed a psychological condition. She became agitated at the thought of work, and began to develop conditions typically seen by domestic violence victims.
Because she was still working with her perpetrator, she experienced high amounts of stress, fear, and anxiety. Depression began to set in as she was made to feel guilty for ‘provoking’ the abuse and was constantly subjected to intense criticism by her co-worker(s) for being a “whinger”. She began to “slide” into that unfortunate group of the population that has a greatly increased risk of suicidality.
Workplace Harassment can lead to a Worker’s Compensation Claim
In addition to depression, Ms X, like other victims of workplace harassment, began to experience long-term anxiety and panic, and eventually got to a place where she fully met the diagnostic criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. The most commonly referenced psychological effect of workplace bullying is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
PTSD (as experienced by Ms X) was characterized by flashbacks, intrusive images, exaggerated startle response, nightmares, and avoidance of triggers that are associated with the abuse. As a result of her psychological injuries, she was unable to return to her employment and was forced to find another job. However, her symptoms were experienced for a long span of time after Ms X left her job at the petrol station. It was determined by an independent psychiatrist that her injury would have a significant negative affect on her future employment prospects. At 43 years old, her life was in tatters.
Worker’s Compensation Claims need to be fair. Ms X was offered a lump sum offer of less than a third of a year’s wages at the end of her WorkCover Statutory Claim. Her confidence was totally destroyed. No job, limited money, no ego. It was the end of the line for her. In total desperation she rang a friend. It was the phone call that changed her life. It was at this point that one of Ms X’s friends suggested she contact a workers compensation specialist lawyer to get adequate compensation so that she could get the medical treatment she deserved. The lawyer she was referred to recommended that she reject the lump sum offer and pursue a claim for negligence. It took some time for Ms X to come to terms with the concept of rejecting the offer. After all, she believed the old maxim “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” She wasn’t very trusting anymore and wondered if the lawyer was doing the right thing. Her friend persuaded her again to listen to the professional’s advice so that she could get adequate treatment – after all, that was the real issue. Ms X finally agreed to the lawyer’s plan. A Notice of Claim for Damages was then lodged on Work Cover and her employer.
Lawyers can assist with Worker’s Compensation Claims
After many months of negotiations and the gathering of medical evidence and psychiatric reports, the lawyers filed their full negligence claim. Compensation was claimed for pain and suffering, economic loss (both past and future) and out of pocket expenses (both past and present). Thankfully, the matter was resolved out of court and Ms X did not have to face her aggressor in a court room. The matter finally settled for a significant sum, almost ten times higher than the first offer.
Unlike many, this story has a happy ending. Ms X used her settlement money to access top-flight psychological treatment and over a period of eight months she had her confidence completely restored. She joined a gym, lost weight, and began a new and loving relationship. She got another job in a “learn to swim” school and graduated to the position of manager in the space of seven months. Who knows what would have happened if she had not called her friend who put her on the right track? If in doubt about a Worker’s Compensation Claim, seek professional help. If you know of anyone like Ms X who has been subject to constant bullying and harassment at work, and who then has suffered acuter psychiatric injuries, you should consult a treating medical professional and a lawyer so that your health can be restored quickly, without you having to fund it. Gouldson Legal represented Ms X in this case. If you would like to discuss your workplace bullying case, please fill out one of the forms at the bottom of this page and we will call you back or Call us on 1800 677 923