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Home > News > Your Mental Health and the Workplace – What are my options?

Your Mental Health and the Workplace – What are my options?

2020-09-10

By Andrea Kehoe – Practice Group Leader, Slater & Gordon

We all took a moment on Thursday 10 September to ask our friends, family, work colleagues and significant others “R U OK?”.  The ongoing challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented to all Victorians has made the question of “R U OK?” a very important one.  It is probably safe to say that a lot of us are not okay, and that’s okay.  Because it’s okay to not be okay.  But it is not okay to go to work have your mental health put at risk by your employer.  Mental health injuries at work are not uncommon, and can arise from workplace stress, or bullying and harassment. 

What is Workplace Stress?

Workplace stress can arise in several ways:

  • Through stressful work practices;
  • Direct or indirect bullying and harassment by co-workers or management; and
  • As a consequence of a physical injury.  

Workplace stress is a psychological or psychiatric injury and often characterised by symptomology such as mild to severe anxiety, mood disorders, and mild, moderate or major depression. In extreme cases, major stress can trigger other serious mental issues like suicidal ideation and acquired brain injuries.

It is important that if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms as a result of work, you should seek medical assistance from your general practitioner as soon as possible.

It is important to remember workplace stress can arise without a physical injury and you do have rights and entitlements under the Victorian worker’s compensation system even where your work injury is purely psychological. 

It is also important to remember that you do have access to worker’s compensation for psychological injuries even if circumstances where you have other non-work related factors causing you stress (eg. family/relationship breakdowns, financial strain, eating disorders, addiction issues etc).  It is also common to see injured worker’s experience these additional stressors as a result of workplace stress causing psychological injury.

What is “bullying and harassment?” How is it different to “unreasonable management action”?

It is important to remember there is a difference between bullying and harassment and unreasonable management action.

“Bullying” is behaviour that is designed to harm, intimidate or coerce a vulnerable person. It can be direct (eg yelling aggressively at someone, throwing something at someone, physical attack) or indirect (blackmail, threats, stalking, etc)

Bullying can also be verbal, physical or psychological in nature. In the digital age we live in, bullying and harassment can also take the form of cyberbullying (eg threatening emails, online stalking, online posts designed to harm a person’s integrity or reputation).   

Harassment is best defined as aggressive conduct, pressure or intimidation. It can be behaviour directly designed to victimise or isolate a person or people and often can arise from underlying differences such as race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, political views and so forth.  

Unreasonable or adverse management action is different to bullying and harassment insofar as  it is best characterised as work practices that cause stress on you without necessarily constituting harassment (eg management implementing a change in procedures which force  you to work unusual hours; perform jobs not strictly in your job description; manage a two or more person workload on your own due to short staffing issues etc).

You may still have rights and entitlements under the worker’s compensation due to adverse or unreasonable management action by your employer provided:

  • you suffer a psychological injury due to work place stress and
  • you are unable to perform your same role with your current or another employer

You should note your entitlements may be limited if you leave your job which is causing you workplace stress and you are able to perform your role with another employer.

What should I do if I am suffering workplace stress?

If you believe you are suffering workplace stress it is imperative that you report your stress to your employer as soon as you recognise your symptoms. This way you put your employer immediately on notice of your psychological condition. If your employer then fails to address your concerns, it may be liable for your psychological injuries. In such circumstances you may be entitled to claim damages for negligence against your employer.  

However, if you fail to put your employer on notice within a reasonable time of becoming aware of your workplace stress, this can place significant limitations on your rights and entitlements under Victoria’s Work Cover laws.

It is also imperative that you speak to your GP about your work stress as soon as possible. Your GP can provide you with a referral to psychiatrist or psychologist or a Mental Health Plan to treat your condition.  

You should also lodge a claim with the Work Cover Authority as soon as possible. If you believe you suffer workplace stress and wish to lodge a claim but do not know how to commence the claims process, you can contact Slater & Gordon or HACSU for advice as soon as possible.  

What if my claim for stress is rejected?

In some circumstances, work cover insurance agents can reject your claim for stress or mental injuries on the basis it believes your injury is caused by reasonable management action or your injury has not arisen out of your employment.  

If your claim is rejected or if you have not received a response to your claim from the workers compensation insurer, you should contact HACSU within 60 days of receiving the workers compensation insurer’s decision in writing.  HACSU can assist with providing you additional support and arrange a priority referral to Slater and Gordon for you to access legal advice from one of our highly experienced workers compensation lawyers.  We have offices across Victoria and will make every effort to arrange an appointment at a location most convenient for you. Whilst our offices are closed due to covid-19 restrictions we are able to meet with you via telephone and video conference. 

About the Author: Andrea Kehoe is a Practice Group Leader of our Workers Compensation and Motor Vehicle Accidents practices across Victoria’s western suburbs including, Werribee, Melton and Geelong.  Andrea has over 15 years’ experience helping people who have been injured in workplace accidents and is driven to ensure that people in tough situations are aware of their entitlements and are not taken advantage of or lost in the system.  In her spare time Andrea enjoys sampling a range of G&Ts and cheering on the Mighty Cats!

Slater and Gordon have proudly partnered with HACSU and represented its members for many years.  As a HACSU member, we provide discounted legal services and benefits in the following areas:

  • Workers Compensation
  • Motor Vehicle Accident Claims
  • Asbestos and Dust Disease Claims
  • Superannuation and Disability Claims
  • Medical Law
  • Public and Product Liability
  • Industrial and employment law

We also offer exclusive services to HACSU member in the following areas:

  • Wills and Estate Planning
  • Family Law
  • Criminal Law 

To access these discounted services*, contact the HACSU Assist team today on 1300 651  or 9340 4100 who will arrange a priority  referral to Slater and Gordon to ensure your access to a range of benefits and discounted legal fees.

*Conditions apply. See www.slatergordon.com.au for details.