A port worker diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after two of his colleagues died – one before his eyes – has won his job back.
Cargo handler Chris Arthurs, 44, took more than a year of medical leave after his close friend and workmate, Bradley Fletcher, died at Lyttelton Port Company (LPC) in August 2014.
A scissor crane toppled, killing Fletcher, a 40-year-old volunteer fireman and father of three.
Fletcher’s death cause a “major exacerbation” of Arthurs’ PTSD, caused by watching his colleague, Martin Sincock, die at the port six years earlier, an Employment Relations Authority (ERA) decision said.
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A mooring rope attached to a coal ship snapped, killing Sincock, 55, who was on the wharf, in June 2008.
Arthurs, a fourth-generation LPC employee, took a month’s paid sick leave and returned to work.
After Fletcher’s death in 2014, a doctor found it reactivated Arthurs’ “ongoing psychological issues” from witnessing his workmate die.
He took medical leave.
Last year, the port dismissed Arthurs because of his ongoing medical incapacity – a decision the ERA found was unjustified.
It said Arthurs should be reinstated in his former job and paid $20,000 in compensation for “the lost not only of his work, but his dignity”.
MONTHS OF BACK AND FORTH
After Fletcher died, Arthurs presented the LPC with a medical certificate, which noted that his disorder affected both his personal and work life. It sought paid sick leave and asked for funding for counselling.
Months of back and forth between LPC container terminal manager Bo Samuelsson, operations manager Paul Monk and Arthurs’ family followed.
Arthurs was awarded five days sick leave, followed by a further 10.
When a drug and alcohol policy was introduced for staff, Arthurs was randomly selected to take part.
He agreed to testing, but refused to sign the consent form. Shortly after, he went on sick leave again.
Arthurs’ was required to complete a health and rehabilitation programme, but presented a medical certificate stating he was unfit to resume work.
His family said his stress disorder affected his ability to “comprehend and make decisions”.
The LPC acknowledged his disorder, but “struggled to see any link between the incident six years ago and his refusal to undergo a random drug test”, the ERA decision said.
Arthurs produced a further series of medical certificates and noted a new non-work injury to his right shoulder and elbow in 2015. He said he would be fit to return in August.
Monk said he had “left a gap in the roster for some time now and we wish to gain some certainty as to your future here”.
He suggested a meeting, where Arthurs was indecisive about what to do.
An expert doctor said Arthurs was “not currently fit to return to his usual range of work activity” and “timeframes for return to normal work activities were measured in months rather than days or weeks”.
Monk wrote to Arthurs and dismissed him because of medical incapacity.
“The reality is that you have been absent … for over one year and there is no certainty regarding any return to work.”
The ERA considered the emotional toll of the dismissal on Arthurs and found “the delay in his return to the workplace has largely been outside of his control”.
It said the port must reinstate Arthurs on conditions including that he file medical certificates from a physiotherapist and the doctor treating his PTSD and present twice for random drug and alcohol tests.