There is a case to answer for bullying in Workers Compensation Systems

inquiry finds bullying within workcover NSW

There is a case to answer for bullying in the Compensation Systems, in my opinion.  In fact, back in July, I argued this point in front of the national inquiry committee. Here’s my statement:

Statement by John McPhilbin to the National Inquiry into Workplace Bullying

I have been waiting for this opportunity for a long time—nine years in fact. I have prepared a brief statement so I cover all the points I need to cover. In 2003, I was forced onto workers compensation as a result of a work-based injury. I suffered a psychological injury as a result of workplace bullying. I had blown the whistle on the culture of workplace bullying and corruption and was subsequently fired as a result.

My claim was initially declined and I was forced to fight for basic entitlements from the Workers Compensation Commission. I was successful in winning my case. However, that was only the beginning of the nightmare. Despite suffering from major depression as a result of the ordeal I received very little help from the insurance company or WorkCover NSW. It took the insurance company, even after years of lobbying New South Wales politicians for help, six years to provide me with the support I desperately needed. I was left with very little support from the system for six years.

Furthermore, from 2003 until late 2005 I was subjected to numerous psychiatric assessments. Many of the recommendations that were put forward by many of these psychiatrists was for a complete change in career and career retraining.  Yet despite this advice, from late 2005 to 2009 I received little or no contact from the insurer. When I was finally contacted I received an apology for the failure of previous case managers to appropriately assist me at the time. I found this incredibly insulting. This meant that I was left to languish for far too long and almost lost everything as a result. I even contemplated suicide on my darkest days.

It was in 2009 that the insurer finally then provided me a rehabilitation counsellor who was a trained psychologist. This specialist was amazed by the fact that when I first sustained my injury another psychologist had not made available to assist me. Just recently I completed a degree in Applied Social Science, paid for by WorkCover, which I think highlights their understanding of their own failures in the past regarding the management of my case. It has cost them $45,000 to re-educate me, which could have been done years ago, instead of just ignoring me.

None of this, however, can compensate for the years of pain and suffering caused firstly by my employer and then by a system that fails to protect victims of workplace bullying.  In fact, it can be reasonably argued that the system only makes the problem much worse. I also think my case highlight the grave injustice done to many people who suffer injuries as a result of workplace bullying.

Despite completing my degree I still cannot be sure that after 9 years on workers compensation that any employer would view me as being employable.

Workplace bullying is considered the second highest cause of workers’ compensation psychological claims, with 24 percent of all claims made due to bullying.

This inquiry has indicated that it will also consider schemes to support individuals who have been affected by bullying in their return to work.  However, a recent survey by the Injured Workers Support Network (IWSN) in NSW indicates that not only do targets of workplace bullying face significant obstacles in returning to work but injured workers in general seem to be subjected to bullying by many employers and insurers.

Uncaring and hostile employers and insurers has been consistently cited as a major obstacle for most injured workers.   Furthermore, the pressures resulting from these failures impact on other areas of injured workers lives which further hamper attempts at recovery.  In too many cases, injured workers report that employers do everything they can to stop them from returning to work and that insurers attempt to bully them and their treating doctors into treatment schedules that ignore medically accepted treatment standards.   This, I believe leads to increased stress, hampers recovery and in many cases leads to secondary psychological injuries.

Despite the lack of confirming data from state authorities such as WorkCover NSW, simply because it has not been made readily available, there is ample evidence from Comcare, the federal work, health and safety regulator that suggest, for example that claims data for psychological injury for Australian government organisations over recent years has risen significantly. I suspect that similar trends exist at state levels as well.

Interestingly the rise in secondary psychological injuries, or psychological injuries that occur as a result of injury management in the workers compensation and rehabilitation scheme have also been on the increase.  This suggests that poor management of claims, which I believe involves bullying by employers and insurers, is a major factor in these increases.

According to Comcare, claims associated with mental stress have risen 54% since 2006-2007. Work related mental stress is of concern in the Comcare scheme, especially in the Australian Public Service. The number and proportion of worker’s compensation claims as well as the cost of psychological injury claims, has increased over recent years. Work pressure accounts for around 50 per cent of psychological injury claims. The next most significant category for Australian government organisations is harassment/bullying combined’ – which accounts for around a quarter of  psychological injury claims.

Over the four-year period to 30 June 2010:

  • around 9 per cent of accepted Australian Government premium payer claims were attributed to mental stress; and
  • around 35 per cent of total claim costs related to these claims.

However, the impact of mental stress is even greater when secondary conditions are taken into consideration. There are a number of cases where the initial claim was not caused by mental stress, but the injured worker developed a mental disease as a secondary medical condition. Taking these cases into consideration, over the same period:

  • around 11 per cent of all accepted claims within Australian Government premium payers involved mental disease as either a primary or secondary condition
  • around 43 per cent of the total cost of accepted claims related to these claims.

All of this suggests that any laws drafted to prevent bullying in the workplace should also be extended to the prevention of bullying during the injury management process.

Reference: Submission to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Workers Compensation Scheme, May, 2012


View the submission in a scalable iframe window as published on the parliamentary’s website

3 Responses to “There is a case to answer for bullying in Workers Compensation Systems”

  1. Excellent John !!! In my career, every person I worked with who needed Workers Compensation claimed they had been bullied in some form by the insurance companies. What compounded this was no real avenue of appeal, what in normal working life could be a grievance complaint was accepted as standard in the Workers Comp arena with nowhere to go as there is an unwritten understanding that if you complain too much you will be punished (benefits delayed, refused etc). Where else is this tolerated? I have never ever met anyone who had a satisfactory experience with Workers Comp. I have met people who were happy with the way their insurance companies treated them with their car accidents, household insurance, etc but NEVER with Workers Comp. What has not been considered by governments, business and insurance companies is the fact that injured workers are still humans with rights, rights that are abused when they are hurt. Disabled people have rights in this society and rightly so. Why is it considered acceptable to bully injured workers who are to all intents and purposes disabled?????

    • That is a really good point. Other insurances (car and home for example, both of which I have had to claim in the last two years) don’t cause the claimants nearly as much grief.

      I blame the Australian attitude of anyone on “compo” is a bludger or a criminal and worthy of contempt.

  2. Great submission John. Your experience resonates almost exactly with my own. Bullied in the workplace then bullied in the Workover. The damage is never ending cos I’m still in the system.. I’m sure thousands of other injured workers know exactly what we’re talking about.