Injured worker forced to leave much loved job having hard time coping

In this story, injured worker “L” kindly shares her painful workcover journey with us. L sustained a permanent back injury which, most unfortunately, means that she is no longer able to do the job she so much loves. Her employer was unable to provide her with a new administrative based job, and without formal retraining, she found herself working elsewhere in an admin-based job she finds overwhelming and where she does not feel welcome or appreciated. On the way to work, L sometimes feels like not turning the wheel and thinking all her troubles would be over if she kept going straight…

Injured worker forced to leave much loved job having hard time coping

I have been on workcover since injuring my back in Oct 2011. My employer is self insured. I work at an aged care facility and a resident fell taking me with her.

It was a nasty fall. I only had a few days off work and took heavy medication to get me through my shifts. The orthopedic surgeon said I have lost about 30% use of my spine.

I was put on light duties and was doing office work. I wanted to try and do a “normal shift” instead of light duties as I was told my job in the office had to come to an end.

I tried very hard to do those shifts as I didn’t want to leave, however my dr said I could not continue as I had to be medicated to get through a shift.

I was very upset at the thought of leaving. My boss said I could stay in the office if I worked every weekend and had Tues & Thurs off. I agreed to do it. All the staff were informed that I was now permanently in admin. I was given a duty statement outlining offically my new role. I was happy with this outcome and told my dr. He signed me off for permanent altered duties. All was going well.

Then I was told by worcover that I had to leave as there were no hours allocated for my new position because up until now, workcover were paying for me.If I am signed off from workcover my employer would have to pay my wages.

As I can’t do my old shifts anymore they had to employ someone to do them. They said because I had been working in admin I could go out and get a job doing that. They said I had to find my own job but they would help me with a resume. I tried to tell them I wasn’t experienced enough to just go and get a job in that field. It all fell on deaf ears.

I feel like I’ve been had. I ended up doing an admin job at another site. The role was for a much more experienced person than what I had been doing.

Trouble is, because of my lack of knowledge I was not welcomed in the new job as the girl there was told I was experienced. They have offered me more training but it will take me years to learn that job. I am 49. I feel very sad about it all. I’m very lonely there as most workers talk in there own language so I can’t even join in a conversation. I feel sick at the thought of going there. I loved where I worked. They are all supportive of me. Even the residents were sad knowing I was going. They’re like family.

Now I have an hours drive to the new job and I’m not welcome when I get there. I have tried to be positive but it’s taking it’s toll now.

I am at the point where I’m driving along the bendy bit of road and I feel like not turning the wheel and thinking all my troubles would be over if I kept going straight.

My husband has been really great and he thinks I should just leave. They will never know the changes I have had to make to my every day life. I have lost my positive attitude and my zest for life. Not to mention things I use to do that I can no longer do. I was very outgoing. Rode a motorbike. Done woodwork and did up our home. I have gone from someone who was good at their job, admired and looked up to, to someone who is looked down on.

I have been told I am underestimating myself and that I’ll be fine but I just can’t do what they are asking and I can’t get it through to them. I’m usually a very strong person but I can’t deal with all this.

One minute I’m staying then I’m going.

I don’t know what to do. Any suggestions?

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, L, and for reaching out.

As we  have stated on numerous occasions, returning to work -after a work injury – is probably one of the most difficult areas you will have to deal with when you are injured at work.

Many employers are excellent in getting their injured workers back to work but unfortunately, others are very poor. These employers are often intolerant of injured workers or provide unsuitable or humiliating work after injury.

If you are able to work, returning to the right kind of job can be important for your future. Your employer is required to provide you with equivalent work if you recover fully or suitable employment if you do not.

Whilst it appears to us that your employer has been supportive of you, they have been – unfortunately-unable to “create” a “new” position for you, based on your permanent medical restrictions, which is totally acceptable under the law.

An employer has only a duty of care to an injured worker for a limited period after an injury. For example, in Victoria, an employer has to provide an injured workers with suitable duties (duty of care) for a period of 12 months from the date of the injury; in NSW for example they only have a duty of care for 6 months.[If an employer fails to provide appropriate work it can be an offence under the WorkCover legislation.] For an overview of duty of care of employers in each state, click here.

If an employer is unable to reasonably accommodate an injured worker, as in your case, it is normal practice for the workcover insurer to provide you with a rehabilitation service, which includes a vocational assessment (looking at your qualification and transferable skills and labour market), potential retraining and NES, which stands for New Employment Service. This is where the rehab service provider helps you with job seeking and supports you until you have secured a new suitable position.

What bothers us a little in your particular case, is that you were not offered retraining. Having seemingly worked a career in nursing or as a carer, one would expect that you would at the very least be offered some sort of re-training (i.e a TAFE course, computer course, etc) in order to help and prepare you for an administrative position.

You may still be able to make a case for retraining, by simply stating that you feel you are unable to cope with the overwhelming demands of the “new” role, for which you are totally inexperienced and unprepared. For this, your doctor may write a medical report or a letter to the insurer, highly recommending [the course you would like to undertake].

You are also allowed under the legislation to seek a vocational assessment and perhaps you should make this request in writing to your employer / case manager (insurer); explaining the rationale.

With regards to the way you are feeling, L, this is totally understandable. I believe your distress stems not solely because of your unhappiness with the “new job” – however it certainly is a major contributor – but that you are still grieving for your loss.

Many injured workers (including me, Lisa) want the unachievable: they “just want things back the way they were” (pre-injury status)… “want my life and my family back” … “want to go back to the work I did.”

These often unattainable goals are often unrecognised and, therefore, never addressed.

The injured worker languishes, all become frustrated, and this is also why the the “money” (the compensation money few of us, serioulsy injured sods obtain) some which precedes closures is misperceived as the true goal.

In reality, the money is often just resignation or “acceptance that never will be same again”.

A much more effective approach would be to determine, from the injured worker and their family/friends etc, what goals are not being verbalised and whether the injured worker can be assisted to discover which can, and ultimately, which cannot be achieved.

I know I am veering off track here…

This is the answer to people who ask “what is the role of psychotherapy?” :)

Let’s face it, apart from getting the satisfaction to “achieve some justice” for your pain and suffering & economic loss, money will not solve your problems! You will still be impaired, still in pain and still unable to be what you were before the injury. Money can help reach some sort of closure and decrease frustration, anxiety etc. and it can also help somewhat when you are financially ruined. However, the most depressing part of compensation is that it is capped and very little. Even if you were to be awarded K500 for pain and suffering and economic loss – take the lawyer fees off it, your lump sum, pay your debts and you will have at most K350 left. This, guys, equals K35-37 per year for 10 years! Once you get compo your weekly payments also stop, so that’s it, even if you can never return to work!

Will this solve your problems? Lift your depression? Cure your “adjustment disorder”? Make your life liveable? Will it fix your PAIN? Your grief? Your injuries? Your disability? The answer is NOPE.

That’s why I tend to get upset when people say “you’ll get the bastards”, “when are you getting your compensation”… because I tell them “what difference will it make to me?”

Basically, L, and those in similar situations, what I am trying to convey here is that you need time and support to grieve for your loss, and you need time and support to reach what is called the “acceptance” stage of your grieving.

You may want to read more about this cycle, through an enlightening story as shared by an injured nurse who ” believes she pushed herself a bit too quickly in attempting to accept her workplace injury and what has happened”. The anonymous injured nurse writes that she does realize that acceptance is paramount if she is to move on, however,  she also thinks it needs to be accomplished in baby steps…”


I believe it would be very beneficial for you, L, to see your GP and to ask him to refer you to a psychologist for the much needed support you need at this very difficult time. The workcover insurer should pay for your counseling, if your GP can clearly show that your condition (the way you feel) is clearly linked to your workplace injury (which it surely is).

With the support of a psychologist (and perhaps some medication) you will be able to come out of “this dark place” you find yourself in at the moment and start thinking a bit more clearly as to what YOU think you may want to do career-wise. With some training or re-training, I believe there is no reason not to find a suitable and enjoyable new position elsewhere, in-spite of your most unfortunate injury. A whole new life awaits you and I strongly believe that “everything happens for a reason” and that something good will come out of this.

For additional support options for injured workers, such as injured workers support group meetings (currently in NSW), interaction with injured folks via our popular forum, information about counselling etc, please visit our support page.


I hope this helps a little.


Additional resources


[post inserted by T on behalf of WCV/Lisa]