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Workplace stress considered by the Supreme Court

DOULIS V STATE OF VICTORIA

In the news over the past few weeks you will have read a decision in the Supreme Court of Victoria regarding Mr Doulis, a teacher at Werribee Secondary College, who in the period between 1998 and 2004 was assigned classes described as, “low classes” and “foundation classes”.  Those classes have been described in the popular press as, “feral classes”.  That language comes from the Plaintiff’s own evidence.  This case was heard in the Supreme Court over an 18 day period in November 2013 with judgment handed down 5 September 2014.  The Court clearly considered the significance of this case on employment generally and work in stressful circumstances in particular.

His Honour Justice Ginnane stated, “I also find that a reasonable person with the knowledge and information available to the College would have realised that there was a risk of Mr Doulis sustaining recognisable psychiatric illness because of his teaching allotment”.  I find that breach of duty was a cause of the chronic severe major depressive condition which he now suffers.  Mr Doulis is entitled to be awarded damages for that breach of duty.  In a lengthy decision of some 91 pages the judgement also goes on to state:

“I have decided the case principally on the extent of the knowledge of the College Principal and Assistant Principals of the risk of psychiatric illness to Mr Doulis because of his teaching allotments”. 

The Court heard from many expert witnesses including Dr Timothy Entwisle a psychiatrist who examined the Plaintiff on four occasions on behalf of the Defendant. 

“Dr Entwisle said that it was unusual for one, single stressor, like lack of sleep, to result in the kind of illness that Mr Doulis has developed.  He said that sleep deprivation for two years could possibly lead to a psychiatric condition”. 

This no doubt is a seminal case in respect of the risk of psychiatric injury arising out of workplace stress.  We consider that employers should review their circumstances in relation to exposure of working to injury arising out of stressful or workplace circumstances.

Aitken Partners will report further on this matter, shortly.  An appeal seems a possibility.    

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