Mental health worker loses bullying case

SHANE COWLISHAW
Last updated 05:00 02/12/2013

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A Wellington mental health worker who claimed she was forced to resign after being bullied has failed in her bid for compensation.

Shomilla Sidal began working as an advocate for Aspire in June 2010, then was promoted to team leader at the Clubhouse drop-in centre in Newtown in October 2011.

Aspire is a non-profit community organisation funded by Capital & Coast DHB, which supports those with mental health problems and drug and alcohol addictions.

Ms Sidal claimed to the Employment Relations Authority that she was suspended after being asked to take a week's sick leave in September last year, following accusations she made of being bullied.

She returned for two weeks before leaving, and resigned in January, claiming Aspire had failed to keep the workplace "psychologically and physically" safe.

Aspire denied the claims, saying Ms Sidal agreed to take the sick leave and she had spent almost three months on paid and unpaid leave before resigning.

Ms Sidal claimed the bullying, from a volunteer and his partner, followed an allegation that alcohol was being consumed onsite.

She passed information about the drinking on to general manager Karen Sale, along with a list of names who were "parties to keep a look out on". The volunteer's name was included on the list.

Ms Sidal said she felt threatened after being abused, and reported the incident to police.

Both the volunteer and his partner were suspended from the Clubhouse while an investigation was undertaken.

During a meeting between Ms Sidal and Ms Sale, which was recorded, Ms Sale suggested that, as team leader, Ms Sidal was expected to be able to manage difficult situations.

She suggested that, if she felt unsafe, a week's sick leave might be appropriate, and could be taken in advance if Ms Sidal did not have enough available.

But, after returning to work, Ms Sidal had another altercation with the volunteer, which ended with a heated argument between Ms Sidal and Ms Sale.

In her decision, released last week, authority member Trish MacKinnon disagreed that Ms Sidal had been suspended from her employment, as she had readily agreed to go on sick leave.

Aspire had taken her claims about alcohol consumption seriously and had also investigated her claims of bullying.

The Clubhouse was a difficult place to work, and it was reasonable for Ms Sidal's employer to expect her to be able to manage difficult people, including the incident with the volunteer.

Ms Sidal told The Dominion Post she would be appealing against the decision, as it "totally went against what I showed in my evidence".

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"I'm not very happy with the decision. Basically I got bullied in my employment and the organisation didn't try to do anything about it."

- The Dominion Post

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