Psychiatric and Psychological Injury:
When should an employer be on notice that an employee may develop a psychiatric injury?
The employee in Roussety v Castricum Brothers Pty Ltd  VSC 466 had signed an employment contract, which required him to work long hours and be on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At first the employer was enthusiastic and happy about the conditions of his contract of employment. However, a number of years later things began to change, and eventually the employer developed a psychiatric injury, as a result of obligations imposed on him by his employer.
The Court found that the employer should have noticed the employee was at risk of developing a psychiatric injury, after the employee collapsed at work and made a number of complaints regarding his workload. The Court noted that it should have become obvious to the employee that the employee had symptoms of mental anguish and psychological ailment, especially after he needed to take an out of character prolonged absence from work.
It appeared that one of the employers did not believe the employee’s complaints, and believed him to be overstating his issues. At one point the employee had worked 20 hours within a 26 hour period and as a result of this, requested to be excused from a presentation due to his fatigue. The employer’s manager was unwilling to allow him to miss this presentation, and refused to believe that he had actually worked the hours he had claimed. The Court found these actions by the employer were unreasonable under workplace law, especially as the manger had been informed by the employer’s nurse, of the issues the employee was having.
Tips for Employers
It is important for employers to:
- ensure they have systems in place, which allow employees to report on their workload and any issues they are having
- provide support to employee’s who have worked particularly long hours, including offering them sick leave or time off work if required
- seek advice from an employment lawyer to ensure you understand the duty of care you owe to employee’s
- train employees in the symptoms of mental anguish and psychological ailment, so that intervention can occur before these symptoms escalate
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DISCLAIMER: This article is provided to clients and readers for their general information and on a complimentary basis. It contains a brief summary only and should not be relied upon or used as definitive or complete statement of the relevant workplace law.