A former Eumundi State School P&C employee has won an appeal for worker's compensation.
A former Eumundi State School P&C employee has won an appeal for worker's compensation. John Weekes

School meeting triggers mental illness, commission finds

A MEETING between leaders at a Coast state school triggered a mental health injury to an employee of 10 years, a court has found.

Karen Lee Allen was operations manager of Eumundi State School parents and citizens' association for more than a decade until a meeting with the school's principal Michael Connors and P&C president Aaron Williams left her feeling "terrible, worthless and completely undervalued".

Details of the meeting and the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission's criticism of how it proceeded have been published as part of Ms Allen's successful worker's compensation appeal.

The commission found the meeting in Mr Connors' office on July 15, 2016, was focused on a reduction of hours for Ms Allen's permanent part-time role.

Concerns about a $28,000 loss sustained by the P&C the previous year had been discussed by Mr Connors, Mr Williams and P&C vice president Jane Revell just four days before the meeting.

Those discussions included reducing Ms Allen's hours, potentially making her position redundant and her pay rate.

However, Ms Allen said she went into the July 15 meeting believing it was to discuss a previous disagreement she had with Ms Revell concerning the return of a contracted tuckshop employee, the resignation of a P&C executive member and a fundraising event.

The meeting was organised by Mr Williams but chaired by Mr Connors.

"The detailed agenda prepared by Mr Connors outlining the issues to be considered at the meeting of 15 July was never provided to the appellant (Ms Allen)," the commission said.

"Mr Williams acknowledged that, in hindsight, he wished he had provided the agenda to the appellant."

A spreadsheet, that had been prepared by Ms Revell, was produced at the meeting.

Ms Allen recalled it had details of her salary from 2008 to 2016.

She gave evidence that she said the information was wrong and that she had never earned the figures detailed.

Mr Williams later accepted Ms Allen had not been given a copy before the meeting, that the spreadsheet contained errors and Ms Allen objected to her salary being discussed in front of Mr Connors.

Ms Allen was an employee of the committee, not the school.

She said she was hysterical and angry when she returned to her office after the meeting, later emailing Mr Williams about being "fed to the lion".

He replied three days later saying he was sorry Ms Allen felt that way and that he had discussed on the phone with her prior to the meeting it would be about the structure of the P&C, it's sustainability and how it could work more closely with the school.

Ms Allen took extended sick leave from August 9, 2016.

The commission accepted a psychiatrist's evidence that Ms Allen's pre-existing anxiety disorder had developed into an adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood.

It accepted the July 15 meeting was "the major contributing factor" to that development.

The commission found the view that the committee's financial loss in 2015 was a consequence of Ms Allen's salary was formed through ignorance.

While it accepted management action only needed to be reasonable and not perfect, it found the conduct of the July 15 meeting fell outside of "what might be considered to be a blemish".

Ms Allen's application for compensation was ordered to be accepted.

The regulator was also ordered to pay Ms Allen's appeal costs.



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