Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

School counsellors lose compo bid after suicides left them with stress disorders

A married pair of counsellors at Melville High School claimed they developed PTSD after a series of student suicides and allege that the school failed to provide a safe workplace. Photo / Thinkstock
A married pair of counsellors at Melville High School claimed they developed PTSD after a series of student suicides and allege that the school failed to provide a safe workplace. Photo / Thinkstock

A married pair of school counsellors who developed post-traumatic stress disorder after a cluster of student suicides at a Hamilton school have lost their bid for compensation.

Ron and Kath Cronin-Lampe brought a personal grievance against the board of Melville High School last year, alleging the school failed to provide a safe workplace.

The couple claimed the school caused them such significant emotional damage they were now afflicted by post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, which they said had limited their work opportunities within their chosen field.

The school denied the claims, arguing the couple did not raise a grievance while they were still employed at the school, and their claims were historical in nature.

The Employment Relations Authority heard the Cronin-Lampes developed PTSD after a cluster of tragic student suicides at the school, beginning in September 1997.

The suicide cluster was followed by a number of other traumatic events - including more suicides, attempted suicides and a number of other deaths within the school community - over more than a decade.

The couple said they were excepted to be constantly on-call, and had to deal with at-risk students without proper support or facilities.

Employment Relations Authority member James Crichton found the events provided "a harrowing context for employment".

However, he dismissed the couple's personal grievance claim because it was not raised within the statutory 90 day timeframe.

Mr Crichton said there was little doubt the earlier traumatic events had caused the couple's illness, rather than more recent events, including interpersonal and training issues, which were raised within time.

He said there was nothing to link the later events to the earlier traumatic events.

"The authority must conclude therefore that the tragic events of the earlier part of the employment are not up for consideration as evidence to support the personal grievance claim."

Mr Crichton also dismissed a counter-claim by the school. Costs were reserved.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 29 Dec 2014 08:44:32 Processing Time: 260ms