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Developing legal approach to mental health in the workplace: Compensation Commissioner v Georgia Badenhorst case

By Hugo Pienaar, Director, Asma Cachalia, Associate and Jacques Erasmus, Candidate Attorney, Employment practice, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr

 

Mental health and its effect on an individual’s functionality has increased in prominence in the last few years. The case of Compensation Commissioner v Georgia Badenhorst [2022] ZAECGHC 1 touches on the importance of mental health in the workplace and how it has become a significant factor in workplace safety.

 

In this case, Georgia Badenhorst had a phobia of snakes and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after she accidentally grabbed a snake in the storeroom at work when reaching for a docket positioned above her head. As a result of holding the snake she developed numerous psychological conditions that led to her being mildly to moderately impaired. She was awarded 20% permanent disablement by the Compensation Commission, which was subsequently challenged in terms of section 91(5) of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA).

 

Badenhorst was successful in her challenge and the permanent disablement percentage was consequently changed to 75%. This was then appealed by the Compensation Commissioner.

 

The expert evidence that was adduced likened the constant anxiety and other disorders – in accordance with Schedule 2 of COIDA – to someone who has lost a leg between the knee and hip or someone who has lost their arm between the elbow and shoulder. The severity of these injuries highlighted the effect of PSTD and other disorders that Badenhorst suffered from and justified the 75% disablement ruling.

 

This case ultimately highlighted the extent to which PTSD can be as crippling as any physical disorder.

 

The court considered the fact that the only issue the Compensation Commissioner raised was the disablement percentage and not the rationale of the expert evidence itself. The fact that no evidence was presented on behalf of the Compensation Commissioner to rebut the expert’s recommendation of the 75% disablement meant that there was no reason to question the expert’s assessment of the impairment.

 

Furthermore, the court found that the mere presentation that the disablement was mental and not physical was insufficient to justify intervention.

 

Building on the argument, the applicant’s Compensation Commissioner counsel could not rebut evidence that justified the differential treatment of mental disorders to those of physical disorders. The appeal merely sought to change the expert’s determination without adducing any evidence as to why the determination needed to be changed. The court therefore dismissed the appeal with costs.

 

The importance of mental health and the need for mental well-being in the workplace is highlighted in this case. The courts have clearly recognised that simply because disablement is psychological in nature does not mean it is any less impairing on the normal functioning of an individual.

 

For more information, contact Professor Hugo Pienaar at [email protected] or Asma Cachalia at [email protected]

Article published with the kind courtesy of Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr www.cliffedekkerhofmeyr.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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