Worker with PTSD wins discrimination battle against ACT Government

Albert McKnight 12 April 2021
Scales

The ACT Government will instigate changes to the way it handles mental injuries after a recent ACAT decision. Photo: File.

A woman bullied so severely while working for the ACT Government that she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has won her discrimination battle.

As a result of her case, the government has been ordered to better train staff who deal with injured workers with a mental injury as well as improve its processes for claims.

Senior Member Mark Hyman recently handed down his orders in the case, which had been heard in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT).

His decision rested on whether the “complainant was discriminated against by the Treasury and Economic Development Directorate of the ACT Government and its Chief Minister” because of her PTSD, which is considered a disability.

A government employee in the Community Services Directorate, she was bullied at work in 2017, resulting in a diagnosis of the disorder.


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She took leave and worked part-time while attempting to recover before claiming workers compensation in October 2018, which was granted by the ACT’s insurer Comcare two months later. Shortly after, the ACT became a self-insurer and CMTEDD took over responsibility for the government’s inclusion in the Comcare scheme.

In October 2018, a doctor said the woman’s symptoms included severe depression, anxiety, flashbacks to abuses, nightmares and hyper-vigilance brought on by “several years’ systematic bullying by an individual in the workplace”.

The doctor said her condition worsened in early 2019, before in March saying, “ACT Government delays and obstruction of process of [the woman’s] enquiries into the matter are exacerbating her condition and could be regarded as continuing abuse”.

In December 2019, the woman made a discrimination complaint to the ACT Human Rights Commission, arguing the management of her workers’ compensation claim by CMTEDD had delayed her entitlements and worsened her PTSD, and the case eventually came before ACAT.

Senior Member Hyman said the discussions between the woman and the government after Comcare accepted her compensation claim was at the “heart” of her discrimination complaint.

She alleged the way she was treated, the lack of responsiveness, delays and errors in dealing with her entitlements and the prescriptiveness of some of the processes led to delays in meeting her entitlements and a worsening mental injury.

She also claimed staff at CMTEDD showed no awareness of her PTSD, its symptoms, or how it affected her ability to manage interchanges between them.

“Every email she received heightened her anxiety, the absence of resolution to ongoing issues affected her sleep and mental state and her feelings of lacking self-worth were reinforced,” Senior Member Hyman said the had woman claimed.


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He did note the government had “persuasively” argued the delay the woman suffered could not be attributed to her disability and said she had not demonstrated the “unreasonableness of the requirement” to use two certain forms as part of her claims.

But Senior Member Hyman found the government had discriminated against the woman by requiring she conduct her workers’ compensation claim without substantial assistance from CMTEDD.

This requirement disadvantaged her by triggering or exacerbating symptoms such as anxiety and intrusive thoughts which were symptoms caused by her disability.

“The discrimination I have identified was not malicious or intentional; rather, it seems to have been the product of inattention, thoughtlessness and perhaps overstretched resources,” he said.

He noted CMTEDD’s representatives said she had been treated just like every other injured worker.

“[Her] point is that treating people with her condition the same as every other injured worker has, in her case and potentially in those of others with similar conditions, significantly deleterious, and unequal, effects,” Senior Member Hyman said.

He awarded the woman $9000 compensation and ordered the government to instigate several changes in its role as an insurer by March 2022.

These include training staff that deal with injured workers who have a mental injury to minimise the risk of triggering symptoms or exacerbating the injury.

The government must also improve procedures for dealing with mental injuries to avoid delays in processing claims, provide timely responses to enquiries by injured workers and keep those workers updated on the progress of claims.


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