A teacher has failed in his claim for damages for stress and breach of contract when he alleged that his face-to-face teaching load was excessive.

The teacher alleged that he was substantially overworked by reason of being given too large a face-to-face teaching load together with too many other co-curricular duties - such as home room teacher, head of middle school house, supervision of Saturday morning sport, co-ordinating with other campuses, exam writing, preparation, correction and being assigned students of different levels in the one class. He argued that his employment contract, coupled with the school’s Staff Welfare Arrangements documents, meant that he was only required to work contractual maximums of up to 26 periods in 2005, 25 periods in 2006 and 24 periods in 2007.

The case centred around whether the teacher’s employment contract and the school’s policies, contained in Staff Welfare Arrangements documents, imposed specific mandatory maximum numbers of face-to-face teaching. While the Court rejected that the school’s policies had been incorporated as terms of the teacher’s contract, none of those documents in any event mandated contractual maximums in respect of face-to-face teaching. Instead, the Staff Welfare Arrangements documents spoke in terms of flexibility – requiring teachers to show a high degree of flexibility while aiming at reasonable overall expectations. They also provided capacity for teachers and the school to discuss or negotiate relevant matters.

The Supreme Court found that the teacher worked about 55 hours per week but that there was no contractual maximum number of face-to-face teaching periods per week.

The Court also found that there was no evidence of any formal complaint by the teacher to the school during his employment and therefore there was no reason to suspect that his workload placed him at risk. During his judgment, the trial judge commented:
 

“Teaching, like other professions, is clearly a busy profession. As was said by a number of the witnesses, teachers (busy professionals with occupations of considerable responsibility) often complain about workloads. Undoubtedly, the same might be said of members of any profession…”

and
 

“That the plaintiff’s workload was heavy is undoubted. However, that is the job he chose to do at the time he commenced his employment with the defendant. Without the benefit of hindsight, there was no reason for the defendant to suspect that the workload it required of the plaintiff placed him at any risk of psychiatric injury.”


Contractual documents

The school benefited from a sound employment contract and policy documentation which allowed for flexibility of the teacher’s face-to-face teaching hours and other hours. While the claim failed, schools should nevertheless be alert to signs of stress arising from teacher workloads.

Further, schools are reminded to constantly review and update their employment contracts and policies to ensure that they both comply with their legal obligations under the teacher’s Award and any enterprise agreement and to obtain maximum flexibility in setting teacher hours and duties.

Reference: Taylor v Haileybury [2013] VSC 58.