An underperforming Canberra public servant was "bullied" by having her work problems addressed in private meetings with her superior, a Commonwealth tribunal has found.
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal says that the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) was "insensitive" to the worker's issues and "humiliated" her by holding one-on-one meetings to talk about her poor performance.
Despite the department offering leave and counselling to Maria Martinez to help her improve her work, the Tribunal found that the "unreasonable" approach taken by DEEWR contributed to the employee's "adjustment disorder".
The tribunal was told of an atmosphere of gossip and backstabbing at the employment section of the National Indigenous Cadet Project Program where Maria Martinez worked until August 2010.
Ms Martinez's claim for worker's compensation, alleging "patronisation, bullying, being made to feel stupid, work colleagues speaking ill", had twice been rejected by Comcare because the insurer believed the public servant's bosses had been reasonable in their attempts to improve her performance.
But after hearing two days of evidence in September, the tribunal ordered Comcare to review its decision, taking into account the "bullying" Ms Martinez had sustained from her supervisor Deborah Ward.
One witness said that Ms Martinez was disruptive, made "silly mistakes," had been promoted beyond her abilities and brought her personal problems into work.
Another said the APS 5-level employee had been an adequate worker but acknowledged she had trouble coping with her personal problems.
Tribunal senior member Professor Robyn Creyke and her colleague Bernard Hughson found Ms Ward had been reasonable in taking Ms Martinez's personal problems into account, offering her counselling, time off and support to improve her work.
But the tribunal members decided the supervisor bullied Ms Martinez by holding the private meetings, which attracted "notoriety" among her workmates, and that Ms Ward should have found another way to approach her subordinate's problems.
"Ms Martinez said as she was the only one being managed this way and everyone knew when she had these sessions with Ms Ward," the tribunal members wrote in their decision.
"In those circumstances, the approach adopted of having one on one meetings with Ms Martinez in a separate room, was insensitive.
"Ms Ward should have anticipated the reactions of others and its impact on the employee in a small team and that feelings of humiliation should reasonably have been expected'.
"The Tribunal is, accordingly, satisfied that in accordance with the agency's guidelines, this was bullying."
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