Pending: High Court consideration of duties of care

With thanks to Associate Professor Tina Cockburn for pointing out that later this week (on 13 April 2018) the High Court will hear oral argument in the matter of Govier v The Uniting Church in Australia Property Trust.

The issue of principle is whether an employer may owe a duty of care to an employee when conducting an investigative process. The employee alleged that she suffered psychiatric injury as a result of the employer’s actions.

The trial judge had held that no such duty existed and the employee’s appeal was dismissed by the Queensland Court of Appeal.

As perhaps better explained by Professor Jeremy Gans:

While the Queensland Court of Appeal held that the provider didn’t cause (or negligently fail to stop) the attack itself, it ruled that the provider subsequently exacerbated the resultant psychiatric harm by around 10% when it sent letters standing the victim down while the matter was investigated and (after wrongly faulting her for failing to attend a hearing) adopting the attacker’s claim that it was her fault. However, the Court held that no damages were payable, as the provider had no duty to avoid such harm when it was investigating the incident.

Written submissions by the employee and the employer are available on the High Court website.

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