Apr 14

Explosive new research reveals alarming biases against psychological WorkCover claims and has one leading compensation lawyer, Travis Schultz, calling on the Queensland Government to change its antiquated workers compensation system.

 

The Queensland Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 governs the scheme administered by WorkCover to assess whether benefits are to be awarded to those employees who suffer an injury while at work, on a break at work or even on the way to and from work.

 

However, the rejection rate of compensation claims for pure psychological injuries is well above that of physical injuries, with data now revealing more than half of all psychiatric WorkCover claims are knocked back.

 

Travis Schultz & Partners recently investigated and undertook research on the number of compensation applications lodged, accepted and rejected for psychological and physical injuries.

 

Data sourced through Requests for Information (RFI) from the Department of Industrial Relations and WorkCover Qld indicates that in 2019/20, 54 per cent of psychological injury claims were rejected. Rates for physical injury claims however, remain at 4.9 per cent (3,181 out of 64,268 determinations).

 

The number of rejected claims has reduced in the past five years, from 66 per cent in 2014/15, but Mr Schultz said the system is still discriminating against people who suffer psychiatric injuries rather than a broken bone.

 

“The real issue here is that workers who suffer a psychological injury are treated very differently to those who suffer a physical injury,” Mr Schultz said.

 

“With all the focus on mental health awareness, RUOK days and so on, how can we stand by a system in this day and age that discriminates against people who suffer psychiatric injury rather than a broken bone?” he said.

 

Victim of workplace bullying and ex-Queensland Government employee, Frank Rogers (pseudo name to protect confidentiality while his case is being considered by the Court), said the current system fails in its support of those who genuinely need it and at the very time they are most vulnerable.

 

“The cards are stacked against the claimant/worker in favour of the perpetrator/employer/organisation,” said Mr Rogers.

 

“In my case, I had overwhelming evidence of ‘unreasonable management practices’ yet it took the regulator and the results of an internal investigation by my employer to get the refusal of claim decision reversed to one of acceptance.

“WorkCover wants you to fall off a ladder and be injured in front of three witnesses.  It’s so easy for WorkCover to reject a psychological injury claim resulting from behaviours which by their very nature often occur either behind closed doors in meetings or without witnesses around.

 

“I would urge those experiencing unreasonable management practices to make notes and records (including audio recordings) of their interactions with the perpetrator.  Apparently, your word is worthless to WorkCover.”

 

Queensland Specialist Psychiatrist & Pain Medicine Physician, Dr Khaldoon Alsaee, said work-related psychological injuries can result in severe disability and are often difficult to treat.  He felt it was unfair that the Workers’ Compensation Scheme appeared to discriminate against psychological injuries compared to physical injuries.

 

“I routinely treat patients who have suffered a psychiatric injury through their workplace. Very often, the severity of the condition is such that they are off work for lengthy periods of time and need intensive treatment, even hospitalisation,” said Dr Alsaee.

 

“For those who are denied the support of WorkCover Queensland simply because they can’t demonstrate that their condition was caused by unreasonable management action, the rejection only compounds the severity of their symptoms, and presents a significant barrier to recovery, often leading to long term disability, unemployment, and suffering.”

 

Mr Schultz said there are too many cases where psychological injury incurred on the job has brought irreversible hardship.

 

“In the last year we have seen a range of tragic circumstances including the death of a prominent family circuit court judge who took his own life after a battle with mental illness. We know the destructive nature of psychological injury and the hardship it can bring to working class Queenslanders – yet our system refuses to support them in the same way as a worker that suffers a physical injury,” Mr Schultz said.

 

“When it comes to psychological injury, the legislation in its present form means the worker must prove that the injury was suffered as a result of something other than “reasonable management action”.

 

This means the worker themselves has to prove not only what caused their psychological condition but also where management action was involved, it was unreasonable – what a cross to bear, especially when you’re already suffering!

 

“Workers who suffer a physical injury aren’t asked by WorkCover to prove that it was suffered as a result of something other than a reasonable management action, so why is it that we can’t level the playing field.”

 

Mr Schultz said the scheme is there to provide benefits for workers who sustain injury in their employment and to encourage improved health and safety performance by employers – and it needs to encompass all injuries in its definition.

 

“How is it fair that a worker with a physical injury gets compensated for their time off work, has their medical treatment and rehabilitation funded and receives assistance in returning them to their old job or alternative employment, yet that same assistance is not regularly made available to a co-worker with a psychological condition?” Mr Schultz said.

 

“It’s not as if WorkCover doesn’t have the money – their 2020 annual report shows a $77m profit and a $324m profit in the 2019 financial year.

 

“Our scheme is in excellent financial shape and year on year has returned millions of dollars in dividends to the State Government. Against this background, why is it that our politicians feel the need to continue to restrict access to the support of WorkCover to workers who suffer the misfortune of a psychological injury rather than a physical one?”

 

If you or anyone you know is struggling with a mental health concern, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. For more information on compensation claims, go to www.schultzlaw.com.au

 

// Ends

 

*Source: Request for Information (RFI) to Office of Industrial Relations and WorkCover Qld.

 

Number of claims rejected on first instance by WorkCover Qld for psychological injury:

 

Financial year           Number of determinations Number of claims rejected % of claims rejected
2014 – 2015 2,446 1,608 66%
2015 – 2016 2,584 1,630 63%
2016 – 2017 2,615 1,642 63%
2017 – 2018 2,745 1,751 64%
2018 – 2019 2,910 1,626 56%
2019 – 2020 3,371 1,824 54%

 

Number of claims rejected on first instance by WorkCover Qld for physical injury:

 

Financial year Number of determinations Number of claims rejected % of claims rejected
2014 – 2015 66,008 3,818 5.8%
2015 – 2016 68,651 4,303 6.3%
2016 – 2017 70,216 4,759 6.7%
2017 – 2018 70,777 4,574 6.5%
2018 – 2019 68,556 3,768 5.5%
2019 – 2020 64,268 3,181 4.9%

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