Whether working within the Q-Comp system under the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 or the Comcare system under the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988, determining what constitutes reasonable management action (RMA) is a challenging area. Both legislative systems indicate that a psychological injury does not include RMA taken in a reasonable way by the employer. Often there is no dispute that an injury has occurred and that the workplace significantly contributed towards it; however whether management’s actions were reasonable and taken in a reasonable manner can be a difficult and subjective exercise to determine.
It is important to determine whether the psychological injury arose out of, or in the course of “Management Action” or not and this can often be the subject of debate itself as “Management Action” is not defined within the Acts. If a claimant’s injury did not arise out of or in the course of management action, there is increased likelihood of the claim being accepted as it cannot be excluded due to “reasonable management action.”
If the psychological injury did arise out of or in the course of management action, it must then be determined whether that management action was reasonable and taken in a reasonable manner. In legislation, the word “reasonable” calls for the need to apply an “objective reasonable person” test. The question to ask here is, “What would the standards and expectations be of a reasonable, disinterested on-looker, taking into regard community standards and expectations as to what might be regarded fair and proper?” If management action was reasonable and taken in a reasonable way, the Acts exclude the psychological injury from the definition of “injury” and the claim is most likely to be rejected.
Strategies for Promoting RMA
- Have documented policies on everything from Code of Conduct, bullying/harassment, grievance procedures, performance management procedures, change management processes, whistleblowers procedures and so on.
- Ensure that definitions, procedures and recommendations within internal policies are consistent with relevant external policies and legislation such as endorsing a system of dealing with grievances locally before escalation to external agencies.
- Ensure that policies are specific, as ambivalent procedures can lead to claims that management has not followed a particular procedure.
- Ensure all Managers and HR staff are adequately trained in all relevant policies and procedures to minimise potential for acting inconsistently with documented procedures.
- Ensure employees are provided with a copy of their position description with clearly articulated expected duties and performance targets to avoid disputes relating to excessive or unfairly distributed workloads.
- Confirm that all employees understand their role and have the skills, capabilities and training they need to perform to their full potential to avoid claims of inadequate training.
- Provide high quality learning and development programs on leadership and people management, which include practical tips for encouraging a culture of mutual respect.
- Prioritise tasks, and set clear and realistic deadlines to prevent claims of unrealistic demands.
- If changes to positions or procedures are necessary, consult with potentially affected employees first to manage possible risks.
- Manage the allocation of urgent work and help staff to re-prioritise workloads where necessary.
- Design jobs to ensure workloads are fairly distributed.
- Consider job rotation to give employees opportunities to broaden their experience and skills.
- Maintain an ‘open’ door style of management.
- Agree on a process for team members to provide feedback.
- Give employees the opportunity to participate in workplace surveys, consultations, team meetings and focus groups.
- Organise team building sessions to keep staff motivated and working effectively within teams.
- Immediately act upon all employees concerns, no matter how minimal they appear – identify the issues, consider them, initiate necessary changes, and clearly communicate the outcomes based on published processes within the business.
- Always offer staff access to the Employee Assistance Provider if they are distressed and routinely inform staff of this service.