Is micromanagement considered bullying? Dental nurse claims psychiatric injury

Among other claims, worker says employer 'engineered her resignation'

Is micromanagement considered bullying? Dental nurse claims psychiatric injury

A dental nurse who worked for a sole practitioner dental practice in Mornington, Victoria, has brought common law proceedings against her employer to recover damages for alleged psychiatric injury.

Before the Country Court of Victoria, the worker alleged she suffered in the course of her employment “as a result of repetitive and sustained conduct perpetuated by [the dentist],” which “amount to and/or was bullying.”

The worker started to work in the clinic in 2013. For the first two years of her employment, she said she “believed her relationship with [her employer] was good and she was happy at work.”

In late 2015, she said the dentist’s “behaviour became erratic.” The worker “believed that the practice was not doing well financially and that [the dentist] was trying to get rid of her.”

She also said the employer “embarked on a nine-month course of conduct designed to engineer her resignation.”

According to records, the worker identified 15 incidents that she alleged, when taken as a whole, established that her employer had bullied her.

Her claim of negligence is that as a result of being exposed to that bullying, she “suffered a permanent mental injury and as a consequence continues to suffer loss of enjoyment of life.” She also claimed to be totally and permanently incapacitated for any form of employment.

Employer denies workplace bullying

The employer denied that the worker was bullied, adding that the dental practice was not struggling financially or that “there was any need or desire to rid the practice of the [worker.]”

It argued that it was the worker “whose behaviour was unacceptable, resulting in the need for [the dentist] to direct, manage, supervise, train and/or discipline her.”

It said the worker “resisted the lawful directions given to her” and that the worker “became argumentative and combative.”

It alleged that the worker “made life at work difficult,” and that “she sent a series of lengthy, argumentative, inaccurate and sometimes threatening correspondence to [the dentist.]”

The employer said that it acknowledged that the worker “suffers from a diagnosable mental injury, however, denies that there was any negligence on the part of the employer that was a cause of her injury, loss and damage.”

The court explained that workplace bullying is “repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed toward an employee, or group of employees, that creates a risk to health and safety.”

It said that “unreasonable behaviour” means” behaviour that a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would expect to victimise, humiliate, undermine or threaten; ‘behaviour’ includes actions of individuals or a group, and may involve using a system of work as a means of victimising, humiliating, undermining or threatening; ‘risk to health and safety’ includes risk to the mental or physical health of the employee.”

Worker resists employer’s directions and alleges ‘micromanagement’

The worker said that she would “override” any directions given to her if she disagreed with them.

In one instance, the worker disagreed “with the direction to clean the toilet, so she did not. Instead, she chose to access the computer at reception searching for details relating to a patient who was treated when the [worker] was away on holidays, a patient who was not being seen that day.”

On another occasion, the dentist “directed [her] not to come to work for a certain morning,” but “in flagrant breach of that direction, [she] attended for work, then admonished [the dentist].”

Further, the dentist said she directed the [worker] “to clean the instruments to ensure that there was no debris on them, but the [latter] attempted to pass the obligation of cleaning instruments to [the dentist].” These are among the incidents that the worker cited as bullying conduct.

“Attention must be given to the position that the [employer] found herself in. She was dealing with a querulous employee who was combative and unwilling to abide by directions. She had an employee who would not accept responsibility for her actions, and who instead seemed to adopt the stance that attack is the best form of defence,” the court said.

“The [worker] complained that she was micro-managed, yet also complained that she never received adequate training. The fact is that [she] was unwilling to undergo further training when it was offered to her.”

The court said that the employer “had the lawful right to supervise and train the plaintiff. They were working in a medical service where patient care and safety is paramount.”

As to the worker’s complaint, the court said it was “not satisfied that, overall, they paint a picture of an employer falling short of the standard of care expected of a reasonable employer, nor do they show that [the dentist] abused any rights as an employer for an improper or collateral purpose.”

Ultimately, the court found the employer did not engage in bullying conduct, nor was there any negligence on the part of the employer. Thus, it dismissed the worker’s claim against it.

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