A recent decision of Comcare, the Commonwealth Workers Compensation Insurer, reminds all employers that it is not enough to have the best intentions in employee management. We must also implement those intentions in a reasonable way.
In this case, an employee was diagnosed with depression following a restructure in her workplace in circumstances where she was unhappy with the changes to her role. The employee was absent for a period of time, however her claim for compensation was not accepted as her depression was found to be the result of reasonable administrative action.
When she returned to work she struggled to develop the skills required to perform the new position. She was provided with an incremental training program to allow her to slowly master the more difficult tasks. Despite the assistance provided, the employee continued to struggle and was placed on an informal performance management plan.
A relief Manager met with the employee and told her that if her performance did not improve within 5 weeks it would be necessary to progress from the informal to a formal performance plan. Further, he advised her that if she did not successfully complete the formal plan it could result in dismissal or demotion. The employee became upset and cried. The employee claimed the Manager persisted with the meeting despite her requests for him to stop the meeting. The employee applied for compensation for an exacerbation of her depressive disorder, citing the performance management process.
It was acknowledged by the Tribunal that the performance management process was a legitimate process. However, it was found that it was not taken in a reasonable manner. The Tribunal identified a number of process errors including that the employer did not postpone the meeting when the employee’s emotional state deteriorated to the point of her breaking down in tears.
The Tribunal was critical of the manner in which the relief Manager had delivered the message to the employee. It stated that in the circumstances, it would have been reasonable for the employer to ensure that such a message was delivered by a Supervisor who was known to and had an existing rapport with the employee. The Tribunal specifically found:
“In the context of an employee with a significant history of mental health issues, it placed [her] at risk.”
Importantly, the Tribunal was also critical of the HR department. In its’ finding that it was extraordinary that it had not informed the relief Manager of the employee’s mental health issues and vulnerability after learning of his intention to start the performance management process. The Tribunal found that there was an obligation to factor in the employee’s specific challenges and this obligation was not met by either HR or the management responsible for the decision to commence a performance management process.
Best intentions are not enough when managing employees. Employers are also responsible and accountable for the way in which they communicate with employees, particularly about difficult issues such as poor performance or discipline. Further, the individual circumstances of the employee must be taken into consideration in determining an appropriate approach to issues.
An internal HR team should be able to assist you with determining the most appropriate action to take, and how best to take it. If you are a small or medium sized business who does not have your own internal human resources, you can obtain the support and assistance you need by engaging Your HR – the outsourced HR service from Providence HR. Your HR is a service designed for your business and available to you when you need it.
If you would like to discuss how our Your HR outsourced HR service could assist your business, please contact Eve Harward on 3218 3955 or firstname.lastname@example.org.