Colleagues and contention

Colleagues and contention

On 31 March 2024, subsequent to the writing of this article, significant amendments to the WorkCover legislation in Victoria were introduced. These amendments may impact upon the relevance of the information contained in this article. For detailed information regarding the WorkCover amendments, please refer to Changes to WorkCover laws by the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Modernisation Act 2023.

Mental injuries are a significant proportion of Victorian claims, with recent statistics showing that 3,990 claims were lodged in 2019 for psychological injuries, which accounts for almost 15 per cent of claims lodged in 2019. What isn’t clear is how many claims are lodged as a result of interpersonal conflict, bullying or assault by colleagues.

Two recent cases have shown the severe impact that interpersonal conflict can have on individuals.

Edwards v Supreme Packaging Pty Ltd

In this Victorian case, Mr Edwards sought an order of the court for both economic loss and pain and suffering for a serious injury as a result of conflict between himself and another co-worker that culminated in an attempted assault. The ongoing employment and subsequent need to separate the two workers so that they did not work together was a consistent cause of stress and anxiety to Mr Edwards. The court held that Mr Edwards did suffer a serious injury for both economic loss and pain and suffering and thus enabled him to pursue a claim for common law damages as a result of the injury.

French v Jolson Corp Pty Ltd

Ms French worked with Mr Jolson worked at an architecture firm which was also part of his residence. Following a series of events, Ms French lodged a claim for weekly payments and medical and like expenses. The claim was accepted on a limited basis, and the ongoing rejection of the claim was taken to the Magistrates Court.

The Magistrate held that it was for the court to determine whether Ms French “had a subjective reaction to events and circumstances actually occurring at her workplace provided that the reaction has a real connection with those events as distinct from an event that she simply imagined was connected with the employment".

The Magistrate summarised the evidence of Mr Jolson as agreeing that he

  • occasionally spoke to Ms French in an inappropriate stern voice, and would tell her to ‘shush’ which Ms French resented
  • threw things such as Post-It notes in her general direction to attract her attention
  • criticised her in a stern voice for opening champagne at a Christmas party which resulted in Ms French bursting into tears for which he later apologised.

The Magistrate held that Ms French was entitled to receive the balance of 130 weeks of weekly payments as well as ongoing medical and like expenses.

These two cases show how interpersonal conflict in the workplace can vary from mild personality clashes to violent assaults, and how both types of conflict can be a legitimate basis for a WorkCover claim.

At Redlich's Work Injury Lawyers, we can assist you in accessing your entitlements if you have suffered a workplace injury as a result of an interpersonal conflict. Contact our team on (03) 9321 9988 for an obligation free consultation.

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