Workers’ compensation payments reduced in relocation ruling
The AAT has upheld Telstra’s decision to reduce the workers’ compensation entitlements of a permanently injured former employee who moved interstate and failed to obtain “suitable employment”.
The Tribunal heard that in August 2002 the Canberra-based computer operator suffered an overuse injury affecting her right arm, shoulder and neck at work.
As a result she was unable to work full-time, and was eventually made redundant. She found a 20-hour-a-week role in a government call centre and received top-up compensation payments from Telstra.
In late 2010, the worker moved from Canberra to Brisbane to help her daughter and family, and obtained employment with a plumbing business that paid her “substantially less” than the call centre.
The worker told the AAT she had been struggling with her work in Canberra and felt she would aggravate her injury if she got a call-centre job in Brisbane.
She also said that before the move, Telstra led her to understand that if she found work in Brisbane at a lower rate of pay it would increase the top-up payments accordingly.
Telstra, referring to s19(4)(c) of the Commonwealth Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988, argued the worker’s decision to relocate and leave her “suitable employment” in Canberra was not “reasonable in the circumstances”.
AAT Senior Member Professor Robin Creyke found that while a call centre role was not “ideal” for the worker, the medical evidence showed her capacity for that work had not diminished.
He also found that such work was readily available close to her Brisbane home.
Senior Member Creyke went on to find that the advice Telstra provided to the worker before she moved was deficient, in that it did not adequately explain the application of the “ability to earn” entitlement reduction.
However, he said that while the “omission was unfortunate”, a worker “must exploit their ability to earn” and to “find otherwise would be unreasonable”.
He also said that although the worker’s desire to relocate to assist her family was “laudable”, it was “not a factor to be taken into account in deciding whether her move to Brisbane was ‘reasonable’”.
Senior Member Creyke affirmed Telstra’s decision to reduce the worker’s weekly entitlements by “the amount she is deemed to receive from her ability to earn in suitable employment”.