In a legal battle that underscores the importance of workplace safety and employee well-being, the recent case of Mason v State of Queensland  QDC 80 has exposed the dire consequences of an employer’s failure to address an act of violence committed by a supervisor against an employee. Justin Mason, a dedicated corrections officer, found himself at the centre of a shocking incident when he was assaulted by his supervisor, Mr Walker, during a disagreement over a prison visitation. However, the repercussions went beyond the physical blow, as the subsequent events at work unleashed a wave of psychological torment on Mr Mason. In a resounding verdict, the court held the employer vicariously liable for the assault and found them guilty of negligence in adequately supporting the traumatised employee. This article delves into the details of the case, shedding light on the ramifications of workplace violence and the legal responsibility employers hold in ensuring the safety and well-being of their employees.
MASON v STATE OF QUEENSLAND  QDC 80 – Background
Justin Mason, the Plaintiff, was a corrections officer at Woodford Correctional Centre. On 22 January 2017, Mr Mason was punched in the stomach by his Supervisor, Mr Walker in front of other staff after they had a disagreement about whether a prisoner was to have a contact or non-contact visit. The punch was hard enough to cause Mr Mason to bend forward and double over in pain. Mr Walker also made a comment along the lines of “I’ve just had to accost Mr Mason. I don’t want to have to do it to anyone else.”
Following the assault, the Plaintiff had several scheduled days off work. Upon his return, the Section Manager, Mr Mosely, approached him, who asked the Plaintiff to provide a report about the incident. Mr Mason was concerned about possible retaliation if he reported the incident, but after reassurance from Mr Mosely, he made a report on 2 February 2017.
After making the report, the Plaintiff was then called derogatory terms by several of his co-workers and asked why there was a ‘punch up’ and why he had ‘dobbed’ on Mr Walker.
On 13 February 2017, Mr Mason was rostered to work with Mr Walker as his supervisor. This made Mr Mason uncomfortable, so he attempted to speak to Mr Walker about the incident, but Mr Walker was dismissive and treated the punch as a mere joke. Mr Mason was rostered to work with Mr Walker again the following days, so he contacted the Operations Supervisor to tell her he was uncomfortable being rostered with Mr Walker. He was immediately reassigned and offered access to the Employee Assistance Program.
Following this, Mr Mason continued to be called names and asked why he had ‘dobbed’ on Mr Walker. On 22 February 2017, a co-worker told Mr Mason he had overheard Mr Walker telling a group of officers that he “Just gave the little fella a backhand” and that the Plaintiff should be a bit careful about the place. On 2 March 2017, Mr Mason reported this to Mr Mosely and told him he was “completely lost as to what to do”, and he did not feel supported as no action had been taken after he made the report. Mr Mosley told him he would report this to upper management to deal with.
On 9 March 2017, Mr Mason got a medical certificate for time off work and lodged a Workers Compensation Claim. He did not return to work at the correctional facility.
Mr Walker was subsequently charged and convicted of common assault.
Court Case – EMPLOYER FOUND LIABLE
Mr Mason’s claim was not based on a physical injury because of the blow, but that he developed a psychological injury which was initiated by the assault and caused by the events at work which followed, including being degraded by his co-workers, being repeatedly rostered to work with Mr Walker and not being provided with adequate support by his employer. This was corroborated by reports of Drs Bell and Whiteford, who both agreed the Plaintiff suffered from an adjustment disorder caused by the physical assault, and contributed to by the threatening comments from his co-workers.
Mr Mason alleged that his employer was vicariously liable for the conduct of Mr Walker in assaulting him and that the employer had failed to provide him with adequate support following the assault and in response to the name-calling from his co-workers.
The Court held that the employer was vicariously liable because the assault was a wrongful form of management action taken against a subordinate employee by a supervisor and held that it was performed during the supervisor’s employment.
Further, the court held that the employer also breached its duty to take reasonable care to protect Mr Mason from retribution after reporting the incident as they failed to offer him any support other than the Employee Assistance Program and breached their duty of care by rostering him on with Mr Walker following the assault (this was also a breach of the employer’s policies).
Mr Mason was awarded $148,114.85 in damages, clear of the statutory refund to WorkCover.
EVOLVE LEGAL – HOW WE CAN HELP WITH WORKPLACE VIOLENCE OR ASSAULT
If you or someone you know has experienced workplace violence or assault, the legal team at Evolve Legal is here to support you. Our experienced personal injury lawyers specialise in advocating for victims of workplace injuries and can help you navigate the complexities of your case.
At Evolve Legal, we understand the physical and emotional toll that workplace violence can have on individuals. Our compassionate lawyers are dedicated to seeking justice on your behalf and holding employers accountable for their negligence. We will meticulously investigate your case, gather evidence, and build a solid legal strategy tailored to your circumstances.
Don’t suffer in silence. Take a stand against workplace violence and secure the compensation and support you deserve. Contact Evolve Legal today for a confidential consultation with our compassionate personal injury lawyers. Let us guide you through this challenging journey and fight for your rights. Together, we can create safer work environments and protect the well-being of employees.
Posted in: Personal Injury
June 28 2023