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Is there such thing as a stress claim?

In the current economic client, many workers’ are finding themselves under increasing pressure from their employers to meet heavier and heavier workloads, whilst at the same time having less resources and support available to do so.  It is therefore hardly surprising that workers’ compensation claims involving workplace stress are on the rise.   In fact, recent figures published by Safe Work Australia suggest that 95% of workers’ compensation claims for psychiatric injuries, in Australia, involve elements of work related stress.[1]   This raises the question of in what particular circumstances a worker’s compensation claim based on workplace stress will be accepted?

From the start, it’s important to realise that the feeling of stress, in and of itself, isn’t a diagnosable psychiatric condition, so when we refer to a claim for ‘workplace stress’ in the context of workers’ compensation it usually refers to the situation where a worker has suffered some form of clinically diagnosable psychiatric condition brought on by stress linked to their employment e.g. an adjustment disorder, anxiety or depression.  Of course, it is possible a person may experience occasional feelings of stress at work without going on to develop a psychiatric condition, however in Queensland such situations are unlikely to be compensable under the workers’ compensation legislation.  In this regard, it’s important that if you are regularly experiencing feelings of stress caused by your work, that you seek treatment from medical practitioner who can provide you with an accurate diagnosis.

Where a worker has been diagnosed with a psychiatric condition brought on by workplace stress, the worker will need to prove the following to have an entitlement to workers’ compensation:

  1. The worker suffered a psychiatric or psychological disorder; and
  2. The psychiatric disorder arose in the course of the workers’ employment; and
  3. The worker’s employment was the major significant contributing factor to the condition.

If all of the above can be established, it must then also be shown that the worker’s psychiatric disorder did not arise out of reasonable management action being taken in a reasonable way by their employer, or the worker’s perception of reasonable management action being taken against them.

In practice this is where most stress claims run into difficulty as the onus of proof falls on the worker to prove their employer’s actions were unreasonable in the circumstances.  The definition of what is ‘reasonable’ has not been exhaustively defined and will depend on the circumstances of each particular case, for example the threshold for proving unreasonableness will probably be higher for a worker who experiences stress due to a heavy workload than someone who has been bullied by a manager.

If you are currently experiencing workplace stress, and feel you may have an entitlement to compensation, it’s vitally important that you speak to a workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as possible as strict time limits apply which may permanently deny a claim for compensation if it is not lodged within 6 months of the worker first seeking treatment for their condition.

For further information, contact Sciaccas Lawyers for a free consultation.

[1] Safe Work Australia, The Incidence of Accepted Worker’s Compensation Claims for Mental Stress in Australia, April 2013
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