Mistreatment of an ex-staff member - ACC to pay for mental injury

August 23rd, 2022 - Barbara Buckett

ACC has been ordered by the District Court to provide cover for a work-related mental injury caused by mistreatment in the workplace by one of its senior managers.

In its decision, the District Court described the staff member as having suffered major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder due to the treatment of her at ACC on nine occasions. The District Court found there were events that could reasonably be expected to cause mental injury. 

The District Court described the actions of the ACC manager towards the staff member as “confrontational and aggressive” which left her “ambushed and blindsided”.

The District Court went on to describe a humiliating incident with a colleague where the staff member was unjustly accused of lying when she went to retrieve a laptop whilst on stress leave. 

The staff member had never suffered any mental illness prior to what was described by the court as stressful workplace events.  

The failure of ACC to recognize the claim as legitimate is a serious concern. 

This is a major government department with statutory responsibilities that focuses on wellbeing so how could it get it so wrong? 

The District Court decision suggests ACC is potentially an unhealthy and unsafe workplace. 

The fact that ACC was forced to compensate through its own systems its own former staff member for its acts and omissions makes it more serious. 

The failure of ACC to recognize the claim as a legitimate one highlights just how serious failure to deal with harmful behaviours in the workplace is in New Zealand workplaces. 

In denying the claim the District Court found that ACC had failed to follow its own guidelines for “Mental health assessments”. 

Although the case before the District Court was not one of bullying or harassment it does raise similar issues.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) are about to release its report on workplace bullying and harassment (extreme forms of mistreatment) within the workplace but do we need more reports when there have been plenty of independent reports exposing the fact that bullying and harassment is rife and endemic in our workplaces.

In a report released by Statistics NZ (2019)around 11% of the workplace surveyed said they had experienced inappropriate behaviour of harassment and bullying.   

So given the present system is clearly failing to stem the problems is it time for a more robust approach through a more solid regulatory framework; for the government to step in and legislate and take the matter away from the control of the workplace and self-regulation.

Certainly in the public sector policies alone are not working. The State Services Commission has great bullying and harassment policies, however, they are clearly not effective as a rise in reports of bullying in the public sector demonstrates anecdotally an endemic crisis within the sector.

In 2011 the state of Victoria (Australia) introduced what is known as Brodie's law. This law made serious bullying a crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail. This law was introduced after a young woman took her own life due to being bullied.

How many more incidents will it take before something tangible is done to address New Zealand’s workplace's worst-kept dirty secret?

Harmful behaviour is a costly embarrassment. Employees ought to be able to go to work and be free from harm and destructive conduct.

Stronger measures are called for to decry shame and stop the current work milieu. 

Are you experiencing workplace bullying?Contact BuckettLaw for advice.

Note: BuckettLaw takes no responsibility for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of our articles. Any views expressed or comments made in an article are the writers option only. The content in our articles does not constitute legal advice. If you need legal or expert advice you should obtain specific advice about your case or matter from a professional. For legal advice based on your individual situation please contact us to speak with one of our expert lawyers.

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Barbara Buckett

Barbara Buckett is a highly experienced senior employment lawyer with over 35 years of practice in New Zealand. She provides expert advice on all areas of employment law and has a proven track record of delivering excellent results for clients. Barbara has extensive experience in resolving workplace issues and is an experienced litigator. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, working out, and fine wine and dining with friends.

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