Employers generally know they could be held accountable if employees are injured on the job. But they may assume their accountability is limited to physical injuries.

However, a recent High Court judgment found an employer’s duty of care may be extended to mental or psychiatric matters.

The case dealt with a prosecuting lawyer who had spent long hours exposed to graphic images as part of her job. After two years she was unable to work because the exposure had taken a toll on her. She claimed damages from her employer for the stress.

The case progressed to the High Court, and the employee was awarded $435,000 in damages for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Notably, in this case, the employer did know the job was likely to be traumatic and had a policy in place to protect workers. But few employees knew of the policy and it hadn’t been implemented.

This case highlights that individual workers often don’t have insight into their mental health issues and may be unaware they’re suffering from PTSD until it’s too late.

This places the burden on employers to put policies and procedures in place to safeguard employees’ mental health – especially when the employees are constantly exposed to trauma like police officers, paramedics, healthcare workers in emergency wards, people who work in prisons or youth detention centres or social workers.

If you’re a small business owner, Beyond Blue has guides and resources to assist you with identifying and dealing with mental health issues.

Blaine Hattie is a business lawyer and principal at Sutton Laurence King Lawyers.

For expert advice on commercial law in Victoria contact Sutton Laurence King Lawyers today on 03 9070 9810 or info@slklawyers.com.au for help.