Does WorkCover Cover Stress / Anxiety Leave?

Workplace stress and anxiety

When you are injured at work you can make a claim for WorkCover. This claim will cover you for an injury which has been sustained while in the course of your employment. When we think of an injury, we usually think of something like a broken arm, or a cut — but what about if the injury is to your mental health?

Does WorkCover extend to a claim for stress, or anxiety? The short answer is - yes, a work-related injury to mental health is claimable under WorkCover, but just like with a physical injury there are certain conditions that must be met. This article will examine claims for mental health conditions and explore how you can make a claim for compensation for stress or anxiety.

What is a psychological injury?

The definition of a workplace psychological injury relates to a clinically diagnosed psychological disorder which has been caused by or contributed to be work. A psychological injury can include a range of cognitive, emotional or behavioural symptoms which can impact on a person’s life. Examples of psychological injuries include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and panic disorders. Job stress is not sufficient to be classified as a psychological injury; a diagnosis must be made by a clinician.

Can you take time off work for stress?

When you are an employee with sick leave and annual leave you are entitled to use this leave as you please. If you are feeling unwell or stressed because of personal matters or work matters, you can take sick leave or annual leave and take some time to yourself. If you have developed a psychological injury due to your work, and need to take an extended period of time off work then you may wish to look into making a claim for WorkCover for this injury.

What is stress leave, and does stress leave fall under workers compensation?

Stress leave due to psycological injury

As mentioned above, you can take time off work for sickness which includes a mental health condition. Stress leave is a term used by people to refer to time off work for stress, but there is not a specific form of leave called stress leave. Any leave for stress can take the form of unpaid leave, sick leave, annual leave; or you may wish to speak to your employer about the possibility of making a WorkCover claim if your psychological injury was caused by or contributed to in a major way by your employment.

Can you claim for stress injury?

When you have developed a psychological injury it will only be compensated if it arose out of or in the course of your employment. You also need to have conditions whereby your employment was a significant, material, substantial or the major contributing factor to the injury. Any claim for psychological injury will likely not be accepted if the injury was caused by reasonable administrative action, such as dismissal, performance appraisal, or deployment.

What is a stress related injury?

Stress and anxiety are mental health conditions. As you would have to when you have a physical injury, you need to visit a treating physician who can identify and diagnose a mental health condition before you can make a claim for compensation.

Furthermore, a claim for a mental health condition under WorkCover needs to be caused by employment so could include things like workplace bullying, pressure or stress; but cannot be linked to reasonable administrative action. Reasonable administrative action is something that is necessary in the line of an employee’s work - such as performance reviews.

For example:

Linda works full time in an office as a clerk, and has been repeatedly asked to work long and late hours by her employer. She is not sleeping well and lets her boss know that she is struggling at home. Her employer does not cut down her hours, and over a couple of months Linda begins to develop a panic disorder caused by lack of sleep due to inappropriate hours of work. She is diagnosed by a psychiatrist, and would be able to make a claim for compensation.
Gary is a permanent part-time retail worker who has a performance review schedule. Gary is a fairly anxious person usually, and the performance review is a cause of concern for him. During the performance review his employer is positive and does not step outside the boundaries of reasonable administrative action; merely recommending that Gary do some more training to help with some of his sales. Gary is a nervous wreck after his performance review and says that this exacerbated his anxiety. Due to this being reasonable administrative action, Gary would likely not be able to claim WorkCover.

What are the key causes of workplace stress and anxiety?

Workplace bullying hashtags

Every workplace is different, with a range of different factors which can contribute to stress and anxiety. In Queensland, 3.4% of all accepted, serious workers’ compensation claims are for mental disorders. For each claim, the typical amount of compensation is $24,800, with a total of $43 million across all mental health claims payments each year.

Key causes of workplace stress and anxiety include:

  • Job insecurity. When people feel that their job is insecure it can cause stress and harm to mental health.
  • Work overload. It is important to have regulation on how much work a person is being asked to do, with clear structure and end points in sight.
  • Bullying or harassment. Bullying in any situation is unacceptable, and in the workplace bullying might be verbal, mental, social, or physical.
  • Difficult working conditions. Some workers are faced with difficult working conditions with bad customers or shift work. These workplace stressors must be addressed and balanced if they are causing issues.

Mental health claims are taken seriously, with 871 claims by Queenslanders compensated each year. Almost half (45%) of all mental disorder claims were caused by exposure to violence, bullying or workplace bullying, with 95% of mental disorder claims attributed to mental stress.

What qualifies as a hostile work environment?

A hostile working environment relates to a workplace where you might have repeated exposure to bullying, repeated unwanted behaviour, or unreasonable behaviour. A hostile working environment can be very difficult to attend every day and may cause certain mental health conditions to develop. Mental health can be impacted by exposure to a range of different hostile hazards, such as:

  • Pressure and demands
  • Lack of support
  • Bullying
  • Lack of workplace training and development
  • Poor organisational clarity
  • Inadequate environmental conditions
  • Remote or isolated work, and
  • Violent or traumatic events.

If a person is exposed to these kinds of stressors in a hostile work environment, they can over time develop a mental health condition. In some cases, a worker may be exposed to a traumatic event which can lead to the development of a serious mental health condition such as PTSD.

Does Workers Compensation cover anxiety?

When a person has anxiety and it has been caused by or contributed to in a significant way by the person’s employment, this would be a possible situation in which a person might claim for WorkCover. A diagnosis would need to be made confirming a person’s anxiety, and then a claim can be commenced. In short, yes. WorkCover does cover claims for anxiety.

Can I sue my employer for stress and anxiety?

Sue for workplace stress

The first step in making a claim for compensation for a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression is to see your doctor. You will need to get a diagnosis for your condition which is a critical part of making a claim to WorkCover.

After you have been diagnosed, speak to your employer. Let them know what you are going through and let them know you would like to make a claim for WorkCover. Your employer will be able to instruct you and help you in this process.

You will be able to make a claim directly with WorkCover for your injury and will be able to access support if you need it. Find out more about how to make a WorkCover claim here.  

Note that in some cases, the process of making a claim for WorkCover can take some weeks, but if your mental health has deteriorated to the point where you are at risk of harm there are some specific types of psychological treatment you can access immediately - provided that your injury (mental health condition) developed after 30 October 2019.

Can I sue my workplace for emotional distress?

When making a claim for compensation for any psychological injury, you will need to ensure that you speak to your employer and get a diagnosis from a treating psychologist. Emotional distress is not a psychological condition under the DSM-V, so you will need to ensure that you have an assessment and receive a diagnosis of anxiety, PTSD, or a relevant mental health condition.  

Struggling with your mental health and need someone to talk to?

  • 1300 MH CALL (1300 642 255) is a confidential mental health telephone triage service for Queenslanders that provides the first point of contact to public mental health services
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Beyondblue: 1300 224 636
  • Workers’ Psychological Support Service: 1800 370 732 or info@wpss.org.au. Queenslanders experiencing a work related psychological injury can access support from a social worker.

Consequences of work stress and anxiety

If you are suffering from workplace stress and believe that you have developed a mental health condition due to your role, then you may be eligible to seek WorkCover compensation for your recovery. However, the process of managing your mental health will go beyond just cognitive changes - your physical wellbeing will be impacted by this as well and it is important to take care of yourself during this time.

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It’s important to get advice for your specific situation. Check if you can make a risk-free compensation claim and get free initial advice from our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.

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Last update on:
July 10, 2020
Disclaimer: This information is designed for general information in relation to Queensland compensation law. It does not constitute legal advice. We strongly recommend you seek legal advice in regards to your specific situation. For expert advice call 1800 266 801 or chat via live chat to arrange free initial advice with our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.

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