Workers comp awarded for phobia-inducing transfer

A Centrelink employee who developed a fear of fulfilling her duties after a transfer has been awarded compensation by a judge.

Workers comp awarded for phobia-inducing transfer
A Centrelink employee who developed a “phobia” of work after her duties changed has won her bid for compensation.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal found that her chronic fatigue syndrome, depression and anxiety were exacerbated when she was told she would be conducting investigations into people’s relationships.

While she worked at Centrelink, the woman suffered with severe episodes of chronic fatigue syndrome, which she had been experiencing for two decades.

In 2005, the woman was working in the Fraud Investigation, where she suffered with anxiety and depression – the judge found that this was caused in part by the investigative work she was undertaking.

“After some time off work the Applicant was able to continue working and to manage the symptoms of her condition,” the tribunal's Deputy President Constance wrote in his decision.

“Her health issues caused her to take substantial, but not excessive, sick leave.”

In 2008, she was moved to a claims processing role, but experienced “some difficulties” which prompted a fitness for duties examination. She was subsequently moved into the Disability Processing Team.

Two years later, the woman took part in a coaching meeting with her team leader and a separate meeting with her manager.

Following these meetings, she “formed the view that she may be made the subject of an unsolicited redundancy notice”, and applied for a position in the Random Sample Team.

She began working for that team in June 2010 – her duties included investigating ‘marriage-like relationships’, which the woman said prompted a sense that “things were going wrong”.

“I did not think I could function in debt-raising role at all,” she told the court.

“It pulled the rug out from underneath me, and triggered the onset of worsening symptoms of chronic fatigue, panic attacks, headaches and insomnia.

“I developed a phobia about debt-raising altogether.”

“Soon after she commenced in the new position the Applicant’s health deteriorated and she decided that the work she had been undertaking in her previous position in the Disability Processing Team was more suited to her,” the judge wrote.

She therefore informed her employer that she wished to return to her previous team, but was informed there was not a vacancy available for her in the Disability Processing Team.

The tribunal also heard evidence from notes taken by a member of Centrelink’s HR team.

“She wanted to go back to her previous job and had spoken to staff who said they needed her because they were understaffed however the Manager says, due to budget constraints, they are not taking on anyone [SIC],” the HR professional said.

“I explained that this was the case in most areas – they are often not advertising and not filling vacancies as they occur. 

“[The Applicant] asked about being transferred back on medical grounds. I explained this would need to be assessed by the Workplace Health Team and she would need a certificate from her treating doctor. 

“[The Applicant] stated she had a certificate but it had information on it she didn’t want her workplace to see. I suggested she contact the doctor and either ask to have another certificate without that information or make another appointment.

“She advised she had leave for 2 weeks at the end of this week so would arrange it then.”

The woman was not transferred back to the Disability Processing Team, although her employer did arrange for her to work away from the Random Sample Team.

In July 2011, she went on leave and did not return to work. She was retired on medical grounds in August 2014.

During the hearing, Comcare unsuccessfully argued that the woman’s condition had been aggravated by reasonable administrative action, which had been taken in a reasonable manner as set out in the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.

Constance ruled that the woman would receive compensation from Comcare, overruling Comcare’s original decision to reject her claim.

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