I have visited the Bad Apple Bullies website on and off over the past 6 years as I found it to be a place of validation after my experience of bullying at the hands of a school principal in the Victorian state system.
There is not much validation to be had elsewhere, is there?
Rather than focus on the bullying experience itself, I want to focus on my dealings with the Workers Compensation system here in Victorian (now renamed "Worksafe") and the legal system.
I decided to take legal action against my employer, being the Department of Education & Early Childhood Development, Victoria.
It is important to realise that the ability to sue (that is seek common law damages) is dependent upon being issued a Serious Injury Certificate.
Even just to get this the victim often has to go to court and have their credibility (and private medical information) discussed and disected in a public forum.
The process involves huge amounts of documentation and attendance at medico-legal appointments.
All of this adds to the trauma.
It is important to note that the degree of disability is set higher for a psychological injury than a physical injury.
I was "lucky" in that my employer conceded and I was issued with the certificate two weeks before being due in court.
But this is only the beginning.
This only gives you the right to seek damages, and to be awarded damages the employer has to be proven negligent.
In my case, nobody was disputing that I was seriously injured at work. (I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.)
Nor was anybody disputing that I suffered serious financial loss and pain and suffering.
What had to be established was that my employer was negligent.
This is a very high bar to get over, especially when the case is heard in front of a jury who may not be too knowledgeable of the nature of psychological injury - after all, it is invisible, unlike a physical injury which can be more easily quantified and understood.
To cut a long story short, or shorter, my employer (via Worksafe) and I negotiated an out of court settlement.
It only took 6 and a half years from the date of injury!
This may seem like a victory, but it is a qualified victory and these are the reasons why:
I have had to make huge changes in my life in order to be able to move on.
Before the settlement occurred, (and I had no idea it would ever happen), I decided to sell my capital city home and move to a regional area for financial reasons.
It has also helped with the PTSD as I am in a new environment.
I decided that I had to live my life regardless of the outcome of the legal action.
If it went my way, it would icing on the cake, so to speak.
Never, ever put all your hopes on a legal outcome which goes your way.
It is more likely not to occur.
Many give up along the way due to the horrors of the process itself and the length of time involved.
I have seen people ruin themselves financially and healthwise pursuing justice as a matter of principle.
The system is very much stacked against you and this needs to be acknowledged.
Also, if you have family members who are dependent on you, their needs are a very important consideration as well.
Something worth investigating for teachers is any ill health retirement benefits they might enjoy under their superannuation scheme.
I have been told that I am entitled to a modest pension.
There is a medical assessment but it is nothing like the one for Worksafe.
One has to be unfit for the job you were doing, not any work at all.
Of course, we all live in different states and are in different schemes so contacting your own Super scheme is essential.
People have asked me whether I would take the same path again.
My answer is no.
I am in a reasonably good place now and really enjoying a rural lifestyle.
However, the path I took was long, made me very, very sick for a long period of time and was a huge risk.
If I had gone to court and not been able to prove negligence, I would then have had to pay the other side's costs.
I could have lost my house... As I have mentioned above, the motivation for settlement was for the insurance company to avoid paying me years more of benefits if I ceased legal action.
It is not an admission of negligence.
If you do decide to take the legal route, it is important to make sure you have very experienced lawyers working for you who understand the system in your state.
This could make or break your case.
Mine could have had a disastrous outcome as my original lawyers were incompetent (now only known in hindsight).
It was only when the firm assigned me a highly respected consultant lawyer that things suddenly started to happen.
Sometimes I find myself thinking about the risks I took and the "what ifs", but it is useless exercise, as where I find myself now is reality.
Even so, it is prudent for anyone considering legal action to weigh up all the pros, cons and associated risks to their health and financial position, and that of their family.
How would I advise someone caught in a toxic work environment suffering at the hands of a bully?
If it is at all possible, get out, and the earlier the better.
I have lost 6 years of my life fighting for my so-called "rights".
I will never get those years back.
The money is some compensation and makes my present and future more enjoyable and secure, but I will never back the lost years, nor my full psychological health.
There was also the toll on my now adult children, particularly the older one who was cast into the role of carer when I was so sick I could not leave the house for months on end.
Bullying takes such an awful toll on so many people.
Best wishes to all on this site.
An ex teacher.