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Whistleblowers Australia

Psychiatric Examinations

Harnessing ordinary grief and upset to your purpose

Many whistleblowers persist when many would say, "let it go". It may be sensible, even prudent, to do so, even if only as a temporary strategy. However, most employers, opportunistically paint that persistence as a failing. For example, they say it is a failure to be a team player, or a symptom of a burgeoning adjustment or personality disorder.

Either way, whistleblowers need to understand that. Generally speaking, if you and your employer don’t agree about there being a need for a psychiatric assessment, then it is probably because there is no need. Your employer is probably trying to make out that you’re suffering from a mental disability so as to get rid of you and destroy your credibility.

It’s a convenience and the whistleblower is right to be upset, or even angry, and to resist. It is wrong for your employer to coerce and abuse an employee in this way and it’s perfectly normal for a person to have trouble adjusting to the unhappy truth that your employer and even some of your workmates are very willing to do the wrong thing and, more seriously, to rort the workers' compensation system in this way.

The key here is for the whistleblower to understand and appreciate that when you are accused of failing to let things go, as if that was the norm, you should be saying that you are having difficulty adjusting to being coerced and forced out and that your difficulties here are entirely reasonable and to be expected, and, finally, that the cure is there for all to see. The employer need only address itself to the investigation of your allegations, which you made in the public’s interest in line with its responsibilities and the usual norms of integrity, accountability and common decency.

What, you might ask, has this to do with a 'fitness-to-continue' assessment? Well, too many psychiatrists and psychologists fail to distinguish between ordinary anger, upset and grief over unresolved industrial matters and mental illness. They wrongly assume the employer’s version has to be right, when they should be handing the request back until such a time as the employee and employer are as one on the employee’s industrial history. Inevitably, when they fail to adhere to this discipline, they risk being seen as 'hired guns'.

Conduct of forensic (not therapeutic) consultations

In the absence of any workers' compensation claim, your employer may require you to attend a 'fitness-to-continue' assessment in circumstances of, say, extensive unplanned sick leave, but your employer must allow you to attend your own doctor if you prefer.

If you want to have a support person with you and for the process to be recorded (with a copy to you), the doctor should agree. Refer to the guidelines on the web pages under Civil Remedies, Other Ways to Blow the Whistle, Resources and Overseas: Whistleblowers - In the Public Interest for the respective ethical and professional guidelines. If not, the employer must refer you to another doctor.

Ascertain whether the doctor has been supplied with the same documents you were. If not, ask for the consultation to be postponed until the documents are made available, with sufficient time for you to consider them and raise an objection if required.

If there is no agreement between you and your employer as to the industrial history and the need for an assessment, ask the doctor to defer the consultation until such a time as there is agreement and take your leave.

Alternatively, continue with the assessment but, either way, inform the doctor why you think the two versions differ factually. When asked, explain that you are having difficulty with adjusting to being forced out of your employment in reprisal for speaking out in the public’s interest and that you think that anger, disappointment, and even grief, with symptoms like anxiety and depression, are neither unusual nor unexpected in these circumstances.

Be reasonable at all times and prepared to concede that others may have a different view. In this way, you go some way to establishing your bona fides and general credibility. Make sure you understand the question before you respond and rely only on the facts as you know them. Don’t speculate or offer an opinion, unless you’re prepared to acknowledge that at the time.

Getting back to work

Understand that if you want to return to work, you need to appreciate that, while you think your employer has acted shamelessly, s/he isn’t the first and obviously won’t be the last, so that (when asked) you can say you can work with them again. Remember, you don’t have to like or respect them; you just have to be courteous and put work first in your dealings with them. That’s do-able and it’s all that an employer can ask of you, anyway.

In other words, don’t take the position that your return to work is conditional on the employer making sure you are never bullied and harassed again, because that is not possible. Instead, ask for the thing that is possible: Ask the employer to ensure that they’ll deal with any complaint you might make in the future fairly, and in line with their policy and procedure.

If you don’t, you give your employer an irresistible opportunity to decline to have you back, because (they say) they cannot possibly guarantee that it will never happen again. It doesn’t say much for your employer. They could explain they will have you back and undertake to do the right thing by you if there is a next time, but they won’t. You’ve given them a convenient excuse and they’ll take it. So, get thinking. Be more strategic.