“Extraordinary number of traumatic events” – Couple Awarded $1.8m in Damages for Workplace Grievance

One of the largest awards in the history of the Employment Court of $1.8 million, was just awarded late last year after a long and arduous case for a failure to meet workplace obligations.

The case of Cronin-Lampe v The Board of Trustees of Melville High School [2023] took over a decade to resolve and highlights the seriousness of employer responsibilities.



Mr and Mrs Cronin-Lampe were employed as school counselors at Melville High School from 1996 to 2012 before being forced to stop working due to medical complications as a result of their employment.

In the course of their employment, they dealt with 32 deaths of students and members of the wider Melville High School Community as well as many attempted suicides and other mental health related issues. As school counselors they were on call to deal with these events 24/7 and the aftermath that ensued.

This left them feeling “stressed out”, overloaded and over worked. They raised these concerns with the school but did not receive the help they needed. In 2012 they were no longer able to work as “extraordinary number of traumatic events” with left them with PTSD.

They contended that the Board of Trustees of Melville High failed to meet its health and safety obligations and failed to manage workload and workplace conditions adequately.



A key part of the case was whether the harm to Mr and Mrs Cronin-Lampe was foreseeable and if the Board had taken reasonable steps to ensure employee safety in line with its contractual obligations.



On this issue the Court held that:

  1. MHS breached express and implied contractual health and safety duties it owed to Mr and Mrs Cronin-Lampe.
  2. Mr and Mrs Cronin-Lampe suffered mental harm (PTSD) as a result of those breaches.
  3. It was foreseeable that Mr and Mrs Cronin-Lampe would suffer harm of the kind which occurred if the employer did not take all practicable steps to eliminate, isolate, or minimise and monitor the hazards of their occupation.



The Court awarded the couple more than $1.79 million in lost income, superannuation, rental income, interest, and medical expenses.


Key takeaways

Employers have a responsibility to reduce and minimise all reasonably foreseeable harm that may occur in the course of employment, “it is well established that the primary health and safety duties are held by the employer.” Therefore, it is essential you are aware of your employees’ stresses and pressures so they can be minimised and hopefully avoided. This will ensure you are not only compliant with the law but also maintain a healthy working environment.

Having a system where grievances can be brought up and followed up is a good way of keeping on top of these issues before they become more significant. It is always better to deal with them as they arise rather than once they have become a serious issue. This saves you time and money but most importantly ensures your staff are looked after properly.


If you are an employee struggling with a workplace grievance or an employer unsure whether you are meeting your legal obligations, please get in touch with us at Watermark Employment Law. We are happy to help!