A former ACT Policing senior constable has won an appeal for compensation after he says he was pushed into a humiliating meeting about his performance in earshot of other officers.
Stuart O'Callaghan, 56, described the interaction with Tuggeranong Police Station sergeants as "the straw that broke the camel's back". He said he was led into his station sergeant's office after the end of a shift on August 2, 2016, on the proviso they would talk about a death report he filed.
Mr O'Callaghan wasn't given warning the meeting would be about his performance on the whole, and he wasn't offered a support person. The door to the station sergeant's office was left open during the meeting.
"[My station sergeant] went on to say I had issues around my policing in general; he even described me as being a 'risk' not just to the Australian Federal Police, but to the general public," Mr O'Callaghan said.
"The way he went about it was very demeaning and very belittling.
"In his own words in the Australian Administrative Tribunal, I looked 'shell shocked' at the end of it."
When the station sergeant did make reference to the death report, Mr O'Callaghan asked to look at it so he could recognise his mistakes.
He held it for a few seconds before the station sergeant took it back. Mr O'Callaghan said it was a draft he sought guidance on because he had not filed a death report in a couple of years, and the meeting was reflective of the AFP's negative workplace culture.
"People weren't trying to get promotions by taking an under-performer and improving their performance," Mr O'Callaghan said.
"They were more interested in trying to find ways to discipline you and show that they can sack someone, because that looks really good on their application for higher levels."
Mr O'Callaghan was medically retired from the AFP on November 22, 2019.
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal heard Comcare, the federal workplace insurer, rejected his claim for compensation for a mental injury he sustained as a result of the 2016 meeting. He was diagnosed with an adjustment disorder with anxiety features shortly after it.
The insurer argued his condition was a "result of reasonable administrative action undertaken in a reasonable manner" - but tribunal member, Simon Webb, denied the latter.
Mr Webb said Mr O'Callaghan should have been given "more than a few minutes" notice before the meeting and told about its true nature. He should have been given the option of a support person, and the since-retired station sergeant should have been open to an explanation from Mr O'Callaghan about his mistakes.
"In the circumstances of this case, the failure to do these things is not consistent with taking administrative action in a reasonable manner," Mr Webb said in his decision.
Mr O'Callaghan's lawyer, David Healey, said ACT Policing had completely failed on its own policies.
"If they've got policies on performance management they need to follow them."
The tribunal ruled Comcare was liable for the compensation claim. Mr O'Callaghan anticipated the compensation in the coming weeks.
A spokesman for Comcare said it determined claims for workers' compensation in accordance with the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988. It recognised the process could sometimes "become adversarial", and encouraged collaboration between people making claims, their employers, and treatment providers.
It had trialed and was continuing to progress alternative dispute resolutions, such as mediation.
A spokesman for ACT Policing said while it was not able to comment on individual cases, both ACT Policing and the AFP had expanded their range of internal and external staff support services since 2016.
Additionally, in August 2018, ACT Policing got involved in a wellbeing pilot program which was anticipated to facilitate early intervention.
ACT Policing would continue to work with Comcare to ensure the process was as efficient and supportive as possible, the spokesman said. Among other initiatives, it had introduced a dedicated team to manage the AFP's compensation claims.
In October this year, ACT Policing and the AFP released an updated Better Practice Guide on Effective Performance Management.
with Alexandra Back