SACKED WORKERS & PSYCH INJURY: HIGH COURT DECISION AWAITS

The High Court is set to determine whether employers are obligated to ensure safe disciplinary and dismissal procedures to prevent sacked workers from experiencing psychiatric harm.

the worker at the centre of the court proceedings was working as an adaptive technology consultant for Vision Australia Ltd when he was accused of acting aggressively toward a hotel worker during a 2015 work trip, and sacked.

He developed a major depressive disorder and successfully sued Vision for $1.73 million in damages (later adjusted to $1.44 million) in the Victorian Supreme Court in 2022.

The judge found the employer's termination process was 'a sham and a disgrace', and the worker was entitled to damages for breach of contract. He found Vision decision-makers were influenced by 'secret' unsubstantiated 'slurs' alleging the worker had a history of aggression, but kept this information from him so he couldn't rebut the allegations.

The judge also found the worker did not act aggressively towards the hotel worker, instead speaking to her in an 'irritated and insistent' way when asking her to address a noise that was keeping him awake.

The Court of Appeal subsequently quashed the damages award, finding a legal precedent dating back to a 1909 House of Lords' ruling (Addis) prohibited breach-of-contract damages for psychiatric injuries, and Vision did not owe the worker a safety duty of care in relation to its dismissal processes

Granting the worker opportunity to challenge a Victorian Supreme Court judgment, the High Court will weigh in on the hstoric legal precedent, which has prevented Australian courts from awarding damages for psychiatric injury in cases of wrongful dismissal.

The worker's legal representatives argue that 'there is nothing inherent to employment, and dismissal therefrom, which ought to make loss for psychiatric injury irrecoverable.'

Asserting that employment relationships involve personal vulnerability, the worker contends that recoverability for psychiatric injury is justified.

Source: Workplace Express, 19 March

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