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Worker unsuccessfully appeals court's initial finding that she was not bullied at work

Robertson v State of Queensland [2021] QCA 92
Fraser JA, McMurdo JA and Henry J
7 May 2021


In the September 2020 edition of WorkCover Update, we shared a case study regarding the District Court of Queensland judgement of Robertson v State of Queensland [2020] QDC 185. Ms Robertson, made a claim for damages alleging she suffered a mental injury due to being bullied while working as a nurse at the Gold Coast Hospital.

Justice Barlow QC found in favour of the employer, concluding that while some of the staff members’ conduct was inappropriate, it did not amount to bullying, and that the employer did not owe the alleged duty of care to take reasonable steps to avoid causing the worker a mental injury at any time. Read the original case study.

Ms Robertson then appealed Barlow QC’s decision to the Court of Appeal division of the Supreme Court of Queensland. The Appeal was heard by Fraser JA, McMurdo JA and Henry J on 27 November 2020 with judgment being delivered on 7 May 2021 ordering that Ms Robertson’s appeal be dismissed.

Grounds of Appeal

Ms Robertson’s grounds of appeal (nine in total) mainly related to complaints of error in respect to duty, breach and causation. Duty, breach and causation (as well as harm) are necessary elements that must be proven by a plaintiff in establishing a case for negligence against a defendant.

Court of Appeal decision

The Court of Appeal dismissed Ms Robertson’s appeal confirming Barlow QC’s original findings which included:

  1. The employer did not owe Ms Robertson the duty of care she alleged it owed her, that being, the duty to take reasonable steps to avoid causing her a mental injury.
  2. The employer did not breach any duty of care it may have owed to the plaintiff.
  3. Ms Robertson’s mental injury was caused not by her employer’s alleged breach of duty but rather by the stresses she experienced at work.

More information regarding bullying and harassment claims

If you are interested in learning more about how the court approaches such type of claims, watch WorkCover’s May 2021 webinar recording on common law claims involving bullying and harassment.