A hefty compensation payout for a victim of workplace bullying has put all employers on notice to be proactive in stamping out bullying or face the consequences.
In a highly publicised recent case, a former teacher was awarded a six-figure payout after ongoing bullying and isolation at work left her with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression, culminating in a suicide attempt in February 2013.
“My doctors have told me the impact the PTSD has had is similar to suffering an acquired brain injury,” the woman, going by the false name of Helen Frances, said.
“I still don’t cope, I can’t really go out and be around many people – I avoid going too far from home.”
Mrs Frances said that a negative culture was established in the school where she worked following the arrival of a new principal. And when she spoke up about her concerns about morale as well as teacher workloads, she was left isolated by the principal, and her colleagues joined suit for fear of retribution.
“It got to the point where I was scared to come to school, I was regularly sick and began seeing a psychologist,” she said.
“It wasn’t just me, most teachers were unhappy, staff used to be totally committed but with the principal they totally withdrew.”
Mrs Frances’ lawyer, Fiona Burns of Slater and Gordon, said the settlement would help close a six-year battle for the mother of two who had given her life to teaching.
“This has been an extremely traumatic time for Helen. It has had an enormous impact on her professional and personal life since late 2011,” she said.
It follows a separate case earlier this month where on-the-job bullying and harassment were central to a former CSL employee winning a wrongful dismissal case.
Employers of all size have been warned that meeting Occupational Health and Safety requirements includes mental as well as physical health, making bullying the responsibility of business owners.
According to Pedro Diaz of the Workplace Mental Health Institute, nearly one in five suicides (17 per cent) can be linked to problems at work.
He previously told My Business that PTSD is not uncommon among bullying victims, and is generally difficult to treat.
“High levels of conflict is not good for people if it’s kept up for a long time,” Mr Diaz said.
“In actual fact, there are studies that have been done which show that if people remain in high-stress situations – combat situations – for over six months, they in almost all cases develop PTSD, which is a fairly traumatic and hard to move mental health issue.”