Worker sues employer over performance management plan

Can a PMP cause 'psychiatric injury'?

Worker sues employer over performance management plan

The Industrial Court of Queensland dealt with the application of a worker to hold her employer’s decision to implement a performance management plan (PMP) as unreasonable.

The worker’s superior implemented the PMP to improve her performance, but the worker said she suffered psychiatric or psychological illness because of it. She then claimed workers’ compensation, but the employer said it was a “reasonable management action.”

The Townsville Hospital employed the worker for many years as a dental assistant. In 2010, she achieved the senior position of administration team leader for oral health services.

In October 2015, the worker broke her ankle while at work. She took sick leave and gradually returned to work in early 2016.

By the time she broke her ankle, staff shortages at the workplace were reportedly “putting stress on her.”

In February 2016, after she had returned to work following her ankle injury, a PMP was put in place at the supervisor’s initiative. The worker’s employment was managed until she left the workplace in June 2016. After a few months, she applied for workers’ compensation claiming psychological injury.

She alleged that her injury occurred because of the “initiation and implementation of the PMP,” but WorkCover rejected the claim.

The regulator accepted that the worker suffered a psychological injury but decided it resulted from a “reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way.”

Meanwhile, the worker cited the human resource policies issued by the Department of Health (DH). She said the decision to implement the PMP “was taken without reference to one of the said policies,” and this failure to consider the DH’s policy was crucial.

The worker said the implementation of the PMP was done “without reference to the policy, so the decision was unlawful and therefore was not reasonable.”

Before her dismissal, she reported “ongoing difficulties with workloads and shortage of reception staff, which impacted her ability to perform her own role,” she also argued that she experienced “additional difficulties by way of increased pain from the constant demands of her duties.”

In an email, she said: “My mental wellbeing is being affected, and my stress levels are also at an increased level due to the impact carrying out two roles.”

The worker said the supervisor’s decision “not to take into account her stress and her overwork in deciding to implement the PMP was a clear breach of the requirements imposed by the DH’s policy.”

HRD previously reported on a Supreme Court case that dealt with an HR manager who believed she was wronged after a meeting left her “distressed” over a negative performance review.

In another case, a teacher questioned the implementation of an improvement program, adding that he did not agree that his performance was “substandard.”

The court’s decision

The court considered that the worker had “significant areas of her employment that required a level of continued intervention by the employer.”

In its decision, it said the PMP was implemented “to lift her performance to a standard that embraced the expectations and parameters of her role.”

“[It is] reasonable for an employer who had become dissatisfied with the performance of an employee… to implement a PMP.”

Thus, the court dismissed the worker’s position and upheld that the PMP was a reasonable action.

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