Respect and diversity workshop left me with PTSD, claims public servant

A former public servant says she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after attending a workplace respect and diversity workshop four years ago.

But Karen Hutchinson, who has been off work and receiving workers' compensation since 2011, has lost a bid in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to have her payments backdated for a year.

Ms Hutchinson said she suffered a mental breakdown after being subjected to a "death threat" in the workshop on workplace bullying on March 5, 2010.

The former claims manager for federal workplace insurer Comcare said that during a role-playing exercise stimulating threats in the workplace, her boss turned to her and whispered: "I'm going to f---ing" kill you."

Ms Hutchinson who said she had a history of being bullied during her work at Comcare, told the Tribunal that her "psychological integrity came to a crashing halt" that day but she did not seek medical treatment until January 2011, after taking a long holiday that included a cruise around Europe.


Her employer Comcare agreed to pay compensation for a "major depressive illness" from January 31, 2011, the date Ms Hutchinson first sought treatment.

But the former public servant, who has since retired to Western Australia, fought that decision, claiming she should be compensated for PTSD from the day of the ill-fated bullying workshop nearly a year earlier.

But AAT Senior Member Stanley Hotop sitting in Perth found that Ms Hutchinson, who was medically retired from the public service in January 2014, could not establish on the available medical evidence that she had PTSD before January 2013 and dismissed the claim.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has also dismissed a claim from ACT government employee Elizabeth Prain was for workers' compensation for a knee injury sustained in a fall on a train trip to Sydney in May last year.

Comcare argued successfully that the ACT Health project manager was entitled to nothing because she was not on a work trip, but travelling to the NSW capital for treatment for another injury that was covered by workers' compensation.

The matter had echoes of the famous "PVYW" case involving a Canberra public servant who won several rounds of a legal battle for compensation for injuries sustained while she had sex on a work trip to Nowra in 2007. The woman's six-year legal fight finally ended in October 2013 when she lost her case in the High Court.

Layers for Ms Prain argued before the Tribunal last month that their client was covered by her workplace insurance when she had her fall and seriously injured her knee because the trip was directly connected to her work.

But Tribunal Senior Member Robin Creyke decided the connection between Ms Prain's work and her trip to Sydney were just too tenuous to find ACT Health liable for compensation.

Ms Creyke noted that the territory health bureaucrat did not believe she would ever return to work when she had her fall on the train and that was unlikely that her bosses at The Canberra Hospital even knew she had been sent to Sydney by Comcare for treatment.  

The Tribunal wrote that it was "common sense" that she should dismiss some of the arguments put forward to connect Ms Prain's fall on the Sydney train to her work for ACT Health.