A reasonable management action… but was it taken in a reasonable way?

08 December 2021

In issue

  • Was the worker entitled to compensation for a psychological disorder sustained during his employment?

The background

The appellant worker was employed by the Isaac Regional Council (Council). Concerns arose regarding the appellant’s conduct at work and he was suspended on pay. An external investigation commenced, and a disciplinary process ensued. The worker was subsequently issued a Show Cause Notice requiring him to show cause as to why disciplinary action ought not be taken against him. The Council ultimately terminated the appellant’s employment.

The decision at trial

The worker applied for compensation on the basis that he sustained a psychological injury resulting from the Council’s disciplinary process. His application was rejected on the basis that his injury arose out of, or in the course of, reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way, thus falling outside the definition of a compensable injury in accordance with section 32(5) of the Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) (WCRA). The worker subsequently sought a review of the decision. The decision was upheld by the Workers’ Compensation Regulator (the Regulator).

The issues on appeal

Did the Regulator err in upholding the decision to reject the claim on the basis that his injury arose out of reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way?

The decision on appeal

The QIRC determined that whilst the disciplinary process constituted reasonable management action it was not taken in a reasonable way because:

  • There were problems inherent in both the suspension phase of the process and the issuing of the Show Cause Notice.
  • The Council failed to provide the worker prior notice of the meeting in which they suspended him, nor did they advise him of the purpose of the meeting. As a result, the worker was not afforded the opportunity to have a support person accompany him.
  • With respect to the Show Cause Notice, the Notice failed to fully particularise the allegations made against him and was issued to him after he received the final copy of an external investigation report.

It was determined these omissions by the Council subjected the worker to procedural unfairness beyond what could be characterised as a mere blemish. As such, the decision was overturned and the worker’s application for compensation was accepted.

Implications for you

The important takeaway from this case is that whilst a management action can be reasonable, such as it was here, how that management action is implemented is the next step in whether or not compensation is payable. Whilst the taking of the management action does not have to be perfect, in the sense of going beyond a mere blemish, it certainly needs to be to a standard that does not interfere with procedural fairness.

Maher v Workers’ Compensation Regulator [2021] QIRC 313

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