Employer Boundaries In Bullying Claims
This case concerns a claim brought by the plaintiff against Curtin University after a tumultuous period of employment as a mathematics lecturer. The plaintiff’s case was primarily that whilst employed, he was subject to victimisation
The background of this case is perhaps best summarised as a long, sustained and misguided action undertaken by a lecturer who his colleagues knew to be stressed and fragile. At
The crucial task for the trial judge was to determine whether there had in fact been ‘bullying’ directed towards the plaintiff. In dismissing the plaintiff’s complaint, McKechnie J noted that bullying does not itself give rise to a claim for damages. Bullying is however relevant in determining whether an employer breaches its duty of care to provide a safe place of work for its employees. The test for bullying outlined in Brown V Cashman  VSCA as ‘repeated unreasonable behaviour directed toward an employee’ was adopted as the proper test to determine whether, in fact, bullying had occurred. The actions of Curtin University staff did not satisfy this test. For example, it was held that an employee manager’s requests regarding when the plaintiff was going to return to work after a period of absence were ‘ordinary legitimate management requests’ and not harassment as claimed.
Therefore, due to bullying not being made out, Curtin was found to not have breached its duty of care to the plaintiff to provide a safe place of work. Moreover and in any case, in order to prove that the duty was breached, the risk of psychiatric injury had to be
Ultimately, the trial judge found that the plaintiff honestly expressed his opinions and emotions, but those opinions were unreasonably held. Accordingly, Curtin was not to be blamed for the plaintiff’s ongoing disability and was not acting illegally when it terminated his employment after numerous student complaints.