The Supreme Court of New South Wales has ordered Optus to pay nearly $3.9 million in compensation to a former employee, after one of his colleagues attempted to throw him from a balcony to murder him 14 years ago.
Glen Wright was training to be an Optus call centre representative in March 2001 when another trainee, Nathaniel George, attacked him on the roof of the Optus building. Optus team leader, Paul Dee, stepped in between the two to physically restrain George, saving Wright’s life.
But Judge Stephen Campbell found Optus Administration, the Optus company handling the training of Wright and George, had acted negligently by failing to take precautions against a risk of harm, breaching its duty of care to Wright.
Wright and George were both undertaking a half-week training course for work in Optus’ call centre, but were unknown to each other prior to commencing the training a few days before the incident.
The court heard George had formed a desire to kill someone and had fixated on Wright.
Wright gave evidence that George “lured” him to the rooftop balcony and invited him to look over the railing at a car. He then grabbed him and tried to lift him over the railing and started to punch him. Dee gave evidence that he rushed to intervene and “bear-hugged” George to restrain him.
The court heard Optus was aware George was on the balcony in an “incoherent” state before Wright had gone to see him.
Judge Campbell found the incident had a severe impact on Wright.
“There is no dispute that Mr Wright suffered physical injury from the blows to his head inflicted during the assault and that he subsequently developed a post-traumatic stress disorder due to the attempt on his life,” Campbell said in his judgment.
Campbell also ordered Optus to indemnify IPA Personnel, the labour hire company Wright’s employment was contracted out to, for a workers’ compensation claim of $679, 952.32.
Majed Issa, senior associate at Maurice Blackburn, told SmartCompany Optus should not have placed Wright in a position where George was likely to assault him.
“They should have simply removed Mr George off the premises, or made arrangements for him to be removed as soon as there was any sign of a problem,” says Issa.
“An employer has a duty of care to make sure that a safe workplace is provided to their employees, including the prevention of acts of violence from third parties.”
Issa says the case is also a reminder for companies who hire staff from labour hire companies that they are still responsible for employees.
“Companies who use labour hire staff, and who have the day-to-day control over the work activities of these staff, must treat the staff as if they were their own employees,” he says.
“They cannot delegate the duty they owe to someone else. They must provide a safe system of work to the staff to prevent foreseeable incidents. They cannot put labour hire staff at arms-length.”
An Optus spokesperson told SmartCompany the case relates to an incident that occurred more than a decade ago.
“We are disappointed in the judgement and will be appealing the decision. Optus takes the health and safety of our employees and contractors seriously,” the spokesperson says.