Psychological or psychiatric injury (PPI) is listed as a type of injury that can be compensated for under the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld). This type of injury can have a significant and lasting impact on your work life and home life. It can also impact on the employer’s business where an employee is unable to adequately fulfil their duties as a result of a PPI.
In all jurisdictions across Australia, a workplace injury is only compensable under workers compensation legislation if it arose out of or in the course of employment. Workers’ compensation laws qualify this further by stating that the employment must have been something akin to the major contributing factor to the psychiatric injury (or other type of injury).
Workplace claims for psychiatric injury are generally not accepted if they arise out of a reasonable action taken by the employer in relation to dismissal, demotion, retrenchment, transfer, performance appraisal, disciplinary action or deployment. Neither will they be accepted if they arise out of reasonable decisions by an employer not to award or provide promotion, reclassification, leave of absence or some other benefit in connection with the workers employment.
WorkCover and psychiatric injury
In Queensland, Workcover is the statutory body who insure against workplace injury. They are the ones who will determine the outcome of your work-related personal injury claim. Each state in Australia will have their various requisite government agency equivalents. When making a decision about a personal injury claim, Workcover will apply the criteria and exclusions as outlined in the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) (the Act).
The Act states that ‘an injury is personal injury arising out of, or in the course of, employment if, for a psychiatric or psychological disorder – the employment is the major significant contributing factor to the injury.’ It is also set out in the Act that a PPI includes ‘an aggravation of a psychiatric or psychological disorder, if the aggravation arises out of, or in the course of, employment and the employment is the major significant contributing factor to the aggravation.’
Psychological or psychiatric injury might be purely psychiatric or may be secondary to a physical injury, arising for example from trauma, or from witnessing a traumatic event. To be able to make a Workcover claim for psychiatric injury there must first be a psychological or psychiatric disorder diagnosed by an experienced medical professional. Relevant medical professionals across Australia make diagnosis by reference to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Scenarios where legitimate workplace PPI’s result might include prolonged exposure to stressful situations that contribute to the development of a serious psychiatric disorder, or exposure to a one-off traumatic or stressful event that led to a psychiatric disorder. The disorder would need to fall within the DSM-5 spectrum of Depressive Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, or Trauma/Stressor related Disorders.
The worker might be experiencing the presence of sad, empty, or irritable moods, accompanied by a diminished capacity to function; excessive fear and anxiety and related behavioural disturbances; lack of joy, difficulty speaking, aggressive behaviours, dissociation, or a combination of the above as a result of something that occurred or is occurring in the workplace.
WorkCover will decide your claim by discussing with you the details of the injury, and the events that have contributed to it, as well as gathering relevant information from your employer, doctors, allied health professionals, witnesses (where relevant) and/or independent medical examiners.
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