Ms He Li is an intensive care nurse who has a history of depressive illness.This illness was triggered by stressors from her personal life and from her workplace, with evidence that she had been subject to administrative action by her employer.
When Ms Li stopped work, she made a Workers Compensation Claim which was rejected because the Department for Health and Ageing ('the Department') claimed that her condition fell under a relevant exception. After she succeeded on appeal, the Department filed another appeal arguing that she was not entitled to compensation.
Ms He Li is a qualified nurse with special training in intensive care. She was employed at the Lyell McEwin Hospital in South Australia. In late Mach 2013, she attempted suicide and was admitted to hospital. She returned to work in July 2013 but stopped work again in March 2014 as a result of suffering from anxiety and depressive illness. Stressors from her personal life including her separation from her partner contributed to her depression. Ms Li submitted a Workers Compensation Claim for income maintenance on 15 March 2014.
Section 30A of the Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act of South Australia ('the Act') provides that, for a person to qualify for compensation for psychiatric injury, employment must be a substantial cause of their injury. However, it also provides that no compensation is due if the injury arose wholly or predominantly from reasonable administrative action among other things.
Decisions by the Department and the Full Bench
The Department rejected Ms Li's claim on the grounds that her condition did not satisfy the requirement of section 30A of Act. It found that the predominant employment-related cause of Ms Li's illness was reasonable administrative action taken by the Hospital. A decision was not first made as to whether there was a substantial employment cause of her illness before considering whether reasonable administrative action was nonetheless the predominant cause.
The Full Bench set aside the decision of the Department, holding that even assuming that the only employment cause of Ms Li's illness was reasonable administrative action, non-employment stressors were enough for her to recover compensation. The Department appealed against this decision arguing that the Full Bench's interpretation of section 30A was wrong in law. Ms Li filed an additional contention claiming that the Department did not address the question of whether there were employment causes of her psychiatric injury other than administrative action.
The majority of the Full Court of the Supreme Court of South Australia held that in determining the compensability of psychiatric illness in such a case, it must be proved that employment was a substantial cause of the psychiatric illness. A worker who suffers psychiatric illness or disorder that is substantially caused by employment (even if there are also substantial non-employment causes) will be entitled to compensation if her or his illness did not arise predominantly from the relevant disqualifying factors, like reasonable administrative action.
The Full Court also held that even if a person's psychiatric illness arose as a result of reasonable administrative action, it is still possible for them to receive compensation if it is also found that there is another substantial employment cause of their illness. Applying this interpretation, the Court found that there was evidence of workplace causes of Ms Li's depressive illness not related to any administrative action, which the Full Bench did not address in reaching its decision. This left open the possibility that, in satisfaction of the requirements of the Act, there were substantial employment related causes of her condition.
The judgment of the Full Bench was set aside and the matter was remitted back to a representative of the Department to determine Ms Li's claim in accordance with the correct interpretation of the Act.