School Bully to Pay!

We all know that schoolyards are the perfect place for a bully to rule the roost and torment their peers. But it’s not just children who bully each other and in this particular case, the alleged bully was the School Principal of a northern NSW primary school.

The victim? A primary school teacher employed at the school whom, as a result of the alleged constant bullying by the Principal and other colleagues, attempted suicide.

Whilst cases involving bullying and harassment don’t always see a huge monetary award, this case was a worker’s compensation case and the teacher agreed to a six-figure settlement for the diagnosed psychiatric injury she sustained whilst at work.

The teacher was 53 years old and taught casually at the school for around 7 years in a positive and collaborative working environment. However, upon the appointment of the new school Principal she said the work culture drastically changed and became toxic.

The teacher took it upon herself to raise her concerns with the change in environment and staff morale, initially informally with the Principal and then in a formal letter.

After this, the teacher says she was targeted by both the Principal and the staff. Her colleagues, formerly regarded as friends, would ignore any attempt at conversation and if they were sitting next to the teacher, they would move as soon as the Principal came into the vicinity.

The Principal allegedly humiliated the teacher in front of her peers and shockingly, even in front of students on many occasions. In one instance, at an all staff meeting the Principal allegedly suggested that the teacher should be made redundant.

The teacher started getting sick with what she thought was just the common cold and felt her immune system was low. This quickly progressed to recurrent nightmares, anxiety and panic attacks after interactions with the Principal.

The teacher, who is also a parent of two children, was the main income provider and felt she had no other employment options. Her struggles at work quickly affected her happiness at home, in her marriage and eventually led to a suicide attempt.

The teacher eventually sought medical and legal help for a psychiatric injury caused by her employment. The Workers Compensation Commission found in her favour, ordering the school authority to pay weekly benefits and cover all medical costs.

She was medically examined to determine the extent of her psychiatric injury and was assessed as having a severe injury. Her “whole person impairment” was 22%. This percentage represents how much her injury affected her everyday life and ability to care for herself and others, maintain relationships, work and generally function in society.

An educational expert found that the school failed to act appropriately to eliminate the risk of her psychiatric injury.

At a compulsory mediation held before the matter would have been heard by the NSW District Court, the parties reached an out of court settlement for an undisclosed sum of six figures.

Sadly, for the teacher, she continues to be affected by her experience and will never return to teaching. She is medicated for her ongoing injury and believes she will never recover from the trauma.

What are the lessons from this? If you believe your mental and or physical health is being put in danger by your colleagues, or your employee you may be suffering from a workplace injury. If you find yourself or someone you know in this situation, seek help and don’t suffer alone.  If you are injured at work you are likely to be entitled to compensation – that’s the law!