In Eaton v TriCare (Country) Pty Ltd [2016] QCA 139 the Queensland Court of Appeal found that an aged care facility had breached its non-delegable duty by failing to take steps to minimise the risk of a former employee developing a psychiatric illness due to managerial pressure.

A former employee of the nursing home claimed that she developed depression and anxiety as a result of her excessive workload and the conduct of her manager. She claimed that, from 2009 when the particular manager joined the facility, she was subject to offensive, intimidating and humiliating behaviour causing her to become withdrawn, preoccupied, worried and noticeably depressed within the workplace. The former employee claimed damages for loss of earnings as a result of her inability to work due to her psychiatric illness.

Duty

Evidence indicated the former employee’s psychological state had deteriorated whilst under new management.  Witnesses attested her previously “happy go lucky” and “bright and bubbly” nature, with her demeanour changing to become nervous, teary and shaken during the relevant time. The Court concluded that there was more than a far-fetched or fanciful risk that the former employee would suffer a psychiatric illness without the exercise of reasonable care by the facility to avoid or minimise the stressful experiences in the workplace.

Breach

The Court held that the facility was not responsible for providing the former employee with a happy, temperate or polite workplace. The facility’s duty was to take care to avoid a risk of psychiatric injury.

Being overworked, of itself, would not have been sufficient to establish breach. However, the manager’s constant belittling, yelling, aggression and general disregard for the former employee, coupled with the excessive workload, was sufficient to amount to breach. There was evidence to suggest that the manager (and therefore the facility) should have foreseen the former employee’s particular vulnerability and her risk of developing a psychiatric disorder.

Causation

The Court accepted the evidence of two independent psychiatrists who said that the workload and managerial conduct brought about the former employee’s psychiatric illness.

Damages

The Court awarded her $435,538.98, with her future loss of earnings calculated until she reached 65 years, with a 35% discount for contingencies.