Public servants with "glass jaws" or "eggshell skulls" who suffer psychological harm from minor office disputes are still entitled to taxpayer funded workers' compensation, a federal tribunal has found.
Australian Federal Police administrator Sandra Carney has won her legal battle for workers' compensation for mental harm arising from a minor workplace disagreement over a workflow chart at the AFP's Canberra headquarters two years ago.
Ms Carney, who has a history of workplace conflict, successfully appealed the insurer's refusal to pay out her claim for "adjustment disorder".
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision sends a message to public sector employers that a worker's "glass jaw" will be no defence if they lodge compo claims for psychological injuries.
Successful Comcare claimants are entitled to be paid their full salaries for their first 45 weeks off work and 75 per cent of their salary, plus medical and pharmacological expenses, until they either return to work or reach retirement age.
Two medical experts who gave evidence to the tribunal, Associate Professor Michael Robertson for Ms Carney and Dr Catherine Oelrichs for Comcare, both acknowledged "some predisposition on Ms Carney's part to injury arising from workplace conflict".
"With this glass jaw, as Prof Robertson described it, leading to emotional reactions to a succession of workplace incidents, the difficulty in attributing a particular mental condition to incidents on particular dates is obvious," tribunal presiding member Gary Humphries wrote in his decision on the case.
The trouble that led to Ms Carney's latest Comcare claim began on January 21, 2014, when she declined to discuss a workflow chart in a meeting with her acting boss because she and her team had not had a chance to read the document.
Ms Carney's supervisors were unhappy about the incident and when her permanent boss returned from leave, another meeting a few days later made matters worse when she claimed she was "paraded" before her colleagues during a search for a free meeting room.
She said she felt upset, humiliated, embarrassed and traumatised by her treatment before and during the meeting and cried all the way home.
By September she had received two adverse performance assessments and been removed, as part of a restructure, from her team leader position.
After the second performance assessment, Ms Carney lodged her workers' compensation claim which Comcare refused, leading to the AAT appeal.
But Mr Humphries found that despite any predisposition to workplace injuries, the Federal Police's insurer Comcare remained liable to pay the claim.
"The evidence strongly suggests that Ms Carney responded emotionally, even viscerally, to incidents of workplace stress," Mr Humphries wrote in his decision.
"Both experts acknowledged that she was prone to such reactions when she perceived she was subjected to bullying or unfair treatment.
"Prof Robertson commented that her experience of such treatment was tantamount to a narcissistic injury.
"She clearly has a particular susceptibility to adverse reactions in these settings – an eggshell skull, as her counsel described it – but this fact does not diminish the reality of the psychological impact this has occasioned during her working life, nor does it make those reactions any less compensable if the legal test of an ailment is satisfied."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Ms Carney had a history of lodging Comcare claims going back 20 years. Ms Carney had lodged one previous workers' compensation claim, against Telstra and its insurer GIO in 1998.