A community care employee has been awarded over $1.5 million in compensation after a traumatic incident which resulted in sexual assault by a client.

The Incident

The employee worked for a community organisation which provides assistance to homeless and disadvantaged young people. Despite receiving numerous complaints about a particular client in regards to her sexualised behavior, violence, ongoing drug use and child neglect, the organisation allocated the employee to the client’s case, failed to warn her of previous incidents, and neglected to implement any protective measures.

During the course of her employment, the employee, who had suffered sexual abuse as a child, was sexually assaulted by the client. Following the incident, the employee was regularly hospitalised for post-traumatic stress, became suicidal and engaged in acts of self-harm, also losing her job and marriage in the process.

Clear and Foreseeable Risk

The Queensland Supreme Court found that the employer breached its duty of care by failing to provide a safe workplace to the employee. It was clear that the employer was aware of the risk as a number of complaints had previously been made, yet it took no steps to prevent the same type of behavior from happening over again, including failing to pass on such information to the employee in question.

The Court declared that the breach by the employer “factually caused [her] injury”, extending the liability of the injury to the employer itself. The risk, while not necessarily inevitable, was certainly clear and foreseeable, and could have been avoided if the employer had taken appropriate precautions.

Extent of Compensation

Due to the severity of the impact the incident had upon the employee and her low chances of returning to the workplace in the next few years, the Court awarded over $1.5 million to compensate her for past and future loss of earnings as well as for the suffering she endured.

It was estimated that the employee would likely need 500 intensive psychiatric sessions over the course of the next decade, in additional to annual hospitalization and multiple medication treatments.

Take Home Points

This case really hammers home the importance of providing safe workplaces to all of your employees. It is vital that every business considers how it can best minimise the risks, both physical and psychological. While you are not expected to defend against the impossible, courts will expect that you have identified, and taken steps to address, any “clear and foreseeable risks”. It’s a small price, considering the alternative is a $1.5 million payout.

For more information, clients should contact the HR Assured team. If you’d like more information about the benefits of becoming an HR Assured client contact us today for an informal chat.