Police officer’s 18-month battle highlights why workplace investigations must be firm but fair

A Victorian police officer who was first responder to one of worst train disasters in Australian history, has spoken of his 18-month battle to have his mental illness recognised and treated.

The Senior Constable was diagnosed with PTSD after an internal workplace investigation, following more than 20 years service with the Police Force. However, his WorkCover claim to fund his mental health treatment plan was rejected.



It would be another 18 months of legal battles before WorkCover over-turned the decision, during which time the Senior Constable said his condition deteriorated, as he couldn’t afford treatment and developed a major depressive disorder.

“I was shattered. I’d done nothing wrong but was treated like trash,” he said of his experience.

A major trigger for his PTSD diagnosis was his involvement as one of the first responders to the Kerang rail disaster in 2007, which killed 11 and injured 23.

Amongst those who didn’t survive the tragedy were Walsh’s friend, and his friend’s daughter.

“After about three hours, we found he wasn’t accounted for. He was one of the deceased still in the train,” he said. “I had three daughters at the time, so it really touched me.”

While the workplace investigation that found the Senior Constable to be suffering was completed quickly and efficiently, numerous complains of how workplace investigations are carried out within the police force prompted the Victorian Police Chief Commissioner to carry out a landmark review of management processes and policies.

The resulting report made 39 recommendations, including calling for a fundamental change in leadership culture and compulsory mental health training for all officers.

Meanwhile, a WorkSafe spokesman said that while workplace investigations around mental health were “managed as compassionately as possible”, it was evident more work was required in this area.

In this case, an 18-month investigation process was clearly inappropriate and demonstrates how important it is for workplace investigations to be carried out as swiftly, effectively and proactively as possible.

Within your management team, if you recognise a need for assistance to conduct firm but fair workplace investigations, iHR Australia can guide you and your staff through the key principles of conducting a lawful workplace investigation via a full-day training program.

iHR Australia’s Director of Workplace Relations John Boardman said, “While many investigators are preoccupied with the forensics of the investigation and ensuring procedural fairness they often forget the impact of their investigation on the parties.

“Managing the process in a way that minimises the trauma on the parties is critical and to do otherwise can see employees disenchanted and disengaged from the business for many years to come. It can also go a long way to reducing the risk of physiological injury and resultant stress claims.”

Boardman added, “It is also about giving people an opportunity to ask questions of the process and for the investigator to understand what their concerns might be. If people do not have faith in the process they will either not come forward with their concerns or otherwise take their grievances external to the organisation.”

As a leading provider of workplace investigation services to organisations that are dealing with allegations of inappropriate workplace behaviour, iHR can also offer independent workplace investigations, whether complaints are made at operational to senior executive and board level, including liaising with unions if relevant.

There are a number of key benefits of having an external party conduct a workplace investigation, said Boardman, as it can offer a level of objectivity, efficiency and experience that can be difficult to achieve when managing the matter in-house.

Meanwhile, the comprehensive report provided at the conclusion of the investigation allows for the organisation to determine the best way forward, in a credible and pragmatic way.

iHR’s process and approach ensures that obligations of procedural fairness and natural justice are met, and that the workplace investigation is likely to be upheld if subsequently tested externally. Click here for more information on iHR’s independent workplace investigation service to see if it may be the right solution for your organisation.


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