Lack of psych evaluation costs employer $150k

Published on 21 Jun 2018

In Keong v Queensland Rail 2018, Queensland Rail were found liable for $153,150 due to breaching their duty of care to an employee by not assessing whether he was psychologically suited to the job’s challenges.

The employee claimed damages for what was primarily a psychological injury said to have occurred as a result of three separate incidents at work in 2011 as an After Dark Customer Service Officer (AD Employee) for Queensland Rail (QR).

The employee was originally employed as a customer service officer before being offered the position of an AD Employee without interview.

The role required the employee to carry out his duties working alone, at night, to provide a visible presence at selected railway stations in order to enhance rail users' perception of safety.

QR argued that Mr Keong defied his training, which was to withdraw, observe and report concerning incidents and not to intervene, when he actively engaged in each of the incidents and failed to subsequently de-escalate the situations.

Queensland District Court Judge David Reid believed that QR had enough knowledge and reporting to ascertain that psychological profiling should be completed for any AD employee recruited. This would have ensured they were suitable for the role considering the significant risk of assaults and/or other injury.

It would also have satisfied the need to engage staff who were likely to “be confident responding to situations involving heightened anxiety and which might involve aggressive acts against persons or property”. The failure to do so exposed Queensland Rail to a finding of breach of duty.

Mr Keong was said to be predisposed to anger or behaviour difficulties when challenged and when stressed, and had a confrontational character. Judge Reid found that if psychological profiling had been carried out, QR would not have found the employee suitable for work as an AD employee, and the incidents would not have occurred.

This case highlights the importance of psychological pre-employment assessments as well as late and inconsistent reporting of psychological ill health; despite Mr Keong acting against his training and role requirements.

It was Judge Reid’s finding that QR breached its duty of care as the risk of psychological injury to the employee was foreseeable, not insignificant and QR could have taken precautions against that risk by conducting psychological profiling before employing Mr Keong in the AD role.

APM has been completing Psychological Pre-Employment Evaluations for a government employer since 2014; assisting the employer determine a potential employees’ suitability, ongoing suitability of existing employees and supporting employees when they are exposed to psychologically distressing material.

APM complete initial psychological assessments, ongoing psychological assessments and exit assessments for this employer.

Initial psychological assessments

An APM psychologist completes the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI) to assist in identifying any areas of psychopathology, including personality traits which may be incompatible with the role.

With these results, we complete a clinical interview which will address any of the areas of concern and provide a recommendation regarding the potential candidate’s psychological suitability to the role.

Ongoing psychological assessments

These are also completed every 12 months or 200 hours of seeing distressing material.

The APM psychologist completes a clinical interview as well as any standardised testing deemed appropriate, to ensure the employee remains psychologically fit to carry out the role requirements.

Exit assessments

Comprise of a clinical interview to ensure the employee is psychologically sound prior to finishing their employment with the organisation.