“The worker claims we bullied him, but it’s just not true.” Which case won?
Warehouse worker warned about slow work and failing to achieve set targets
A warehouse worker was employed by a haircare product seller and distributor, commencing in February 2014.
The company operated on a “just-in-time” inventory model, whereby its selling point was the promise of next-day delivery of its goods.
The warehouse workers were therefore expected to work rapidly to fill orders and meet the required turnaround time between the order being placed and the delivery of goods.
Unfortunately, this particular worker was very slow and was failing to reach the workplace targets expected of him.
He was aware that employees’ work performance was monitored, and that the work pace and output he was achieving was far lower than that of his colleagues.
The company held disciplinary meetings with the worker about his poor work performance.
Worker alleges bullying by supervisors and company conducts internal investigation
Although the worker subsequently claimed he had reported that he was being bullied to one of his supervisors, he did not complain specifically about the matters in question until July 2015.
In July 2015, during another disciplinary meeting with the president of the company and one of the worker’s supervisors, the worker reported that he felt he was being abused and bullied by his immediate supervisors.
The company commenced an internal investigation, including speaking separately to individual colleagues who the worker claimed had witnessed the bullying.
The worker claimed that the supervisor had sworn and yelled at him, called him racially abusive names and thrown bottles at him. An internal investigation found these claims to be unsubstantiated.
Although the results of the investigation were not recorded in writing, the worker was informed of the findings.
Similarly, the employer’s insurer prepared an investigation report, which also found no evidence that bullying had occurred.
Medical records show deterioration of worker’s psychological condition
The worker was under the care of medical professionals throughout the course of his employment at the warehouse.
Medical records showed multiple reports of stress from work by the worker, in addition to a knee injury sustained in the workplace.
The evidence from these records suggested a decline in the worker’s psychological state over time. While he spoke to his doctor of pressures at work and unrealistic expectations of him with regard to his work performance, he did not raise bullying or harassing behaviour with the doctor until the end of his employment.
Warehouse worker dismissed and launches workers compensation claim
Problems with the worker’s work performance continued. Despite repeated requests to improve and official warnings, he failed to increase the speed of his work to the standard required by the company.
The company dismissed the worker in October 2016.
The worker subsequently commenced negligence proceedings against the company under workers’ compensation legislation, seeking damages for a workplace injury.
The worker alleged the company had breached its duty of care and he had suffered a psychological injury, being major depression, because of his supervisor’s bullying and harassment.