Employer in breach of duty of care to prevent psychiatric injury

In a recent decision of the Supreme Court, an employer was found to have breached its duty of care to an employee to prevent a forseeable psychiatric injury to that employee by not putting in place measures to prevent the employee working excessive hours and by telling the employee to keep working after he had worked all night.

The employee was a manager in a rendering plant and had initially agreed to work long hours and to be on call 24 hours a day. However, a few years after commencing in that role, due to maintenance issues and staff reductions, his hours had steadily increased beyond what had originally been contemplated in the contract.

The Court said that the employer had a duty of care as the risk of the employee developing a psychiatric injury was reasonably forseeable to the employer in this case. This was because the employee had complained repeatedly to his superiors about not coping due to the inadequacy of maintenance support, staff shortages and his long hours; his presentation at work had changed from being jovial and happy go lucky to withdrawn; he had collapsed at work and told the work nurse that he had insomnia due to work stress and he had a prolonged absence from work. All of this should have put management on notice that there was a risk that the employee would develop a psychiatric injury because of his work conditions.

For more details see Roussety v Castricum Brothers Pty Ltd [2016] VSC 466 (18 August, Zammit J)