If a worker suffers a psychiatric injury as a result of their employment which requires them to take time off work and/or incur medical expenses for treatment, they can lodge a claim for workers compensation under the Return to Work Act 2014 (“the Act”).
If an injured worker is successful in having their claim accepted by the compensating authority or self-insured employer, the worker may be entitled to claim reimbursement of reasonable medical expenses and payment of weekly income maintenance during their period of incapacitation.
Lodging a workers compensation claim for psychiatric injuries
For an injured worker to have a successful claim, the worker must be diagnosed as suffering from a recognised psychiatric injury by a medical professional. Being 'stressed' or suffering ‘anxiety’ is not enough to make a claim for compensation under the Act.
In addition to being diagnosed with a recognised psychiatric injury, an injured worker must also prove that his or her employment was the significant contributing cause of the psychiatric injury.
Where a claim for physical injury only requires employment to be ‘a’ significant contributing cause, psychiatric claims are very different. There is a higher threshold to prove in psychiatric claims with employment needing to be ‘the’ significant cause of the injury.
In many cases, the employer and/or compensating authority may claim that other events occurring in the worker's life impacted upon and may have been the significant contributing cause of the injury. Those events may have been recent or many years earlier. Examples may include, if the injured worker recently suffered the loss of a loved one or went through a separation or divorce, or suffered financial or other hardship. If any of these circumstances have occurred, an argument could be made that work was not the only cause of ‘the significant contributing cause’ of the injury.
Reasonable administrative action taken in a reasonable manner
Even in circumstances where the injured worker can show they are suffering from a diagnosed psychiatric injury and that work was the significant contributing cause of the injury, the employer and/or compensating authority may attempt to rely on the statutory defence that the injury was caused by 'reasonable administrative action taken in a reasonable manner' by the employer.
If the employer and/or compensating authority can prove that the injury was caused by reasonable administrative action taken in a reasonable manner, the injured worker’s claim will fail. If such a defence is claimed, it is the onus (responsibility) of the employer to prove such action was reasonable administrative action.
An injured worker will not be entitled to claim income maintenance or medical expenses where an employer has reasonable grounds to transfer, demote, discipline, redeploy, retrench or dismiss a worker. For example, if a worker becomes anxious, stressed or depressed because an employer reasonably undertakes an investigation and provides a warning or takes disciplinary action, the injured worker would not be successful in their claim.
A workers compensation claim for psychiatric injury would not be successful if the employer makes a decision (based on reasonable grounds) not to promote a worker, even if a worker believes or can prove they were the best candidate for the position.
If you feel you are suffering a mental or psychological injury which was caused by workplace events and stresses, you should immediately consult with your doctor. If a psychiatric diagnosis is made or the doctor believes an injury has been caused by employment, you should seek legal advice on potentially lodging a workers compensation claim.