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News 13 August 2020

"Ambush" meeting caused psychological injury, found not unreasonable

A manager did not act unreasonably in accusing a worker of "stealing time" from his employer and "ambushing" him with performance concerns in a meeting, causing the worker to develop depression and anxiety, a commission has found.

Queensland Industrial Relations Commissioner Minna Knight concluded the worker became defensive in the meeting and tried to deflect issues, so it was understandable the manager reverted to the performance concerns to convince him “that all was not well,” she said.

“Although it is not an ideal approach, I am not persuaded it could be characterised as unreasonable management action given the circumstances,” the Commissioner said.

The Australian Leisure and Hospitality worker, employed as venue manager at the Villa Noosa Hotel, applied for workers’ compensation for a psychological injury arising from the June 2018 “catch up” with his regional manager.

He claimed he was ambushed in the meeting with unfair accusations that he stole from the employer by taking his earned time off in lieu (TOIL), without obtaining proper approval.

The regional manager then brought up his performance and told him he was the worst venue manager in the region. These issues had not been raised previously and the manager’s hostile and unjustified treatment of him had a profound impact on his mental health, the worker claimed.

The Queensland Workers’ Compensation Regulator rejected the claim on the basis that the worker’s injuries arose from reasonable management action. It argued the meeting gave the worker an appropriate opportunity to explain the TOIL issue, and contrary to what the employee had stated, the performance issues had previously been flagged in an annual review.

The worker appealed, telling the Industrial Relations Commission that the manager unreasonably rejected his explanation that failures by an assistant manager led to his earned days off not being properly approved.

However, Commissioner Knight heard the worker had recently been reminded of the employer’s requirements around TOIL, but still failed to comply with accepted practices for obtaining permission.

The manager told the Commission he had tried to explain to the worker how his actions could be perceived as intentionally stealing time and did not intend for the meeting to move on to his performance.

But the worker struggled to accept constructive feedback and tried to avoid the issue by highlighting areas he was performing well in, the manager said.

Commissioner Knight accepted the worker wanted to “move the discussions away from uncomfortable topics related to his failings in terms of the leave issue.”

She said it would have been preferable for the manager to avoid being drawn into a discussion about performance, but this did not mean his actions were unreasonable.

“Faced with an employee who struggled to accept feedback, had seemingly disregarded earlier reminders about how to apply for leave, and who could be difficult to reach when attempting to highlight areas for improvement, one can appreciate how a degree of frustration and directness may have entered into [ the manager’s] interactions with [the worker],” she said.

In dismissing the case, the Commissioner said she was satisfied the manager did not conduct himself in an overly hostile or aggressive manner in the meeting and his concerns weren’t baseless.

Weiss v Workers’ Compensation Regulator [2020] QIRC 111 (4 August 2020)

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