Workplace bullying prompts $1M pay-out

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An Australian woman has negotiated a six-figure settlement with her former employer after being subjected to aggressive and unfair treatment in the workplace.

The New South Wales woman – who must remain anonymous as part of the agreement – was awarded more than A$1 million (NZ$1.07m) as compensation for her ordeal.

The initial incident occurred five years ago when supervisors at the government agency called a meeting to offer the woman feedback on an internal job application.

The woman, who worked in middle management and was 41 at the time, had accidentally duplicated an answer to one question in response to another. She accepted the error would void her application and said the meeting wasn’t necessary because she understood the mistake. Her bosses, however, insisted.

Once the meeting began, two supervisors accused the employee of having an inappropriate relationship in the office and passing off a colleague’s ideas as her own – an allegation she denies.

"I was blindsided by it. I couldn't understand where the allegations were coming from," she told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Had they given me some sort of notice or asked me in a less hostile environment, I could explain it. It was just incorrect. But they just kept going and going.”

The woman claims she was sobbing and doubled over but bosses wouldn’t stop making allegations.

“At one point they said, we can put you in contact with the counselling service. I said I will absolutely need it after this meeting and still they went on. I don't know why I didn't walk out. It went on for ages."

When the meeting was finally over, the public servant went on annual leave but when she returned to work, she says she was forced to work with one of the supervisors who had bullied her.

"I asked to be moved out of that department. But they felt the need to humiliate me further by sitting me outside their office and the team I used to manage," she said.

The unnamed woman says she was no longer allowed to contribute and felt “useless” at work.

“It got to the point where I would sit in the bathroom for six hours and no one would notice I was there,” she said. “I didn't do any work because I couldn't."

Eventually, the employee was sent to a mediation meeting with one of the supervisors but says she was verbally attacked once again.

"The woman attacked me again to the point where the mediator told her to stop. It was horrible," she said.

Now, a number of psychiatrists have provided evidence that the employee’s mental injury has rendered her unable to return to work.

The woman's lawyer, Lucinda Gunning, said pay-out was comprised of two components – one for total and permanent disablement, which was paid out by a private insurer, and a workers compensation payment, for past and future earning capacity.

"In my experience, this is the highest sum that I have seen paid for a workplace bullying claim," she said.

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