Workplace bullying & discrimination – SA injured worker shares horror story

MY STORY

I have written this story numerous times in different formats, all aimed at trying to get individuals to understand my life now and what it used to be. From politician to lawyers and current affair programs, no one seems to care or even consider the possibility of injustice and retribution. To the point where I am starting to believe them, just accept what’s happened and move on. I am still clutching to straws at the moment, I am not ready to give up yet.

It really all started at the end of 2005. Six months prior, I was hand picked to establish a unique program in community health.  I was already working in a well established program but felt it was a unique opportunity to secure the career I had come to love and would also benefit a fairly young person in this profession.
Six months into the job, things started changing. The first “obvious” and telling start was being excluded from a “pat on the back award” from the manager at the Christmas party. Everyone in my team of 4 received one but me. I found out soon the reason why, but that was where my working life became hell on earth.

You see, I was working for an Aboriginal centre but was not Aboriginal. However, I was not Caucasian either.  I am in the minority classified as “others”. Born in another country but moved here at a young age, I had the physical characteristics of an Aboriginal person, to the point where most Aboriginal people are surprised when I inform them of this. However, my passion and similar cultural upbringing was similar to theirs and hence the Aboriginal community accepted me. However, I was informed soon after the Christmas party, I would never get any recognition for the success or credit given regarding the team I belonged to because I was not Aboriginal. It will always go to my Aboriginal co-workers.

I was hurt but ultimately believed in the purpose and result of this program to continue. The Program became a significant success, with significant changes in outcomes which surpassed the states. We were inundated with requests to give presentations about our program from managers in the metro and country areas. They were interested in our success and the possibility of replicating the same service.

However, behind closed doors, life was very different from me. My line manager would frequently challenge me and put me down in front of my colleges. My manager and her “possie” would exclude me for staff get-togethers at work or outside work. The full time hours well ended into  the weekends. Soon my workload increased more when a team member would turn up to work initially sporadically to finally not turning up at all,  adding her workload to mine.  I was not allowed to question this as she was my manager’s daughter. I was not allowed to question the manager and her “possie” using the government cars for private use weekday and weekend. I resigned to the fact of using  my car to transport clients.

I had to endure hell between 2006 to 2008 and for the sake of keeping my story short, I have to surmise my time there. I was never treated like I was part of the team, I was either ignored, belittled or unrealistic workload demands put onto me. I attempted numerous times to report to upper management regarding what I was going through but after a while, when they kept ignoring my reports, I gave up. In mid 2007, I was due to have my 3rd child and arranged to take maternity leave when I was 36 weeks pregnant. I had to wait and hand over to my replacement and ended up leaving at 38 weeks. I had my son a week later. Meanwhile, I  was on maternal leave for 6 months, the manager and my replacement (of Aboriginal decent),  decided they wanted to get rid of me and went on a witch hunt. However, they could not find any reason to.

In Early 2008, my father who resides overseas became gravely ill, I was not relieved of my duties to take annual leave and fly overseas to be with him. Yes, I was granted “annual leave”, but I had to continue my work overseas such as ringing my clients and case manage at my own cost. Because of this, I was unable to stay for longer when his health deteriorated. I was forced to return to Australia after only being away for 3 weeks. 5 days later, my father passed away. I had to manage my caseload when I returned for his funeral.

I was forced by my psychiatrist to go on Workcover on 1st July 2008. Even though it was hell at work, my devotion to my clients (I was the only one left by that time, the equivalent of 4 people’s workload) and my genuine concern of no service being provided to them stopped me. True enough, the program ceased to exist after two months of me leaving. My manager could not find anyone to take on my position. To this day, I still feel guilt that the program closed down.

I did not realise how bad a state I was in. My official injury title  is “Treatment Resistant Major Depression”. To be brief, my last option was Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). However, I suffered an “unknown” complication. I lost and never regained most of my long term memory and still have problems with laying down short term memory.

The effects of work, being sick and this cognitive disability took its toll on my marriage. I was forced to move out of the home and was forced to share custody of my 3 young children by my ex-husband.

I have been placed in the “too hard basket” and workcover has not been proactive in the attempt to rehabilitate me to return to work. No attempt to rehabilitate me. My 2 Bachelor Degrees and my Graduate Diploma and all my experience are worthless now due to the long term memory loss. They have basically left me alone for as long as they could. I was deemed ready for partial RTW for 2 years before I forced them to find me something. After that ended, I was stilling at home again for a year before I made them find me another placement.

All the jobs were space fillers, doing stuff that others didn’t want to or couldn’t do.  It did not relate in any way to my profession nor did they attempt to look for one that did. They have refused to re-train me, it would be at my own expense. Nor would they provide anything else which would help me recover and maintain a normal life.

Since September 2013, I have been placed in the actual office with my rehab consultant, his colleges and his manager. I am “helping” them with a task they are behind with. It’s a supernumerary space filling job and is totally against what my specialists and I believe regarding suitable employment.

I believe that it a BIG conflict of interest to be working there with them. I am being observed constantly and am unable to raise issues with work or anything related to it because it involves them.

The manager and her possie were never reprimanded for their actions. Instead, they moved on to cushy, well paid positions. For me, I have lost significant memories such as births of my children and  their milestones, my marriage, my home, half the time with my children and my profession. The consequence of the ECT has also changed my ability to function on a day to day level and even my personality. Workcover has told me numerous time to accept all that is happened and move on. My case is too complex for the lawyers I have consulted. They have offered a redemption twice and I have flatly refuse both times, purely based on principle.

I now I have been told that the possibility of seeking justice is impossible (SA). However I keep clinging onto hope that a miracle might happen and a find a loop hole……. LOL!

Workcover SA (and in general) – blurp

workcover-sucks

Psychiatric injury in SA

South Australian Workers with psychiatric injuries are not eligible to received lump sum compensation for non-economic loss.

If you suffer a work injury that is permanent, you can apply for what is called a Section 43 payment.  A Section 43 is a payment by WorkCover to injured workers for any permanent impairment that the worker has suffered to one or more body parts as a result of the work injury sustained.  The payment does not take pain and suffering into account.  The payment is for permanent impairment and only if that permanent impairment is 5% Whole Person Impairment or more under the AMA Guide to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment.  The Section 43 payment is the only lump sum payment of money that a worker can receive for suffering the work injury.

Furthermore, Section 43 payments are only available to workers who suffer physical injury.  You cannot apply for a Section 43 payment if you have suffered a permanent psychiatric injury.

Rehabilitation in SA

So, you have lodged your claim, the claim has been investigated and accepted, but your injury is serious and you are not going to return to work in the short term.  If you are at that point, you have now entered the rehabilitation phase of your claim.

The rehabilitation of injured workers is a controversial issue in South Australia.

Rehabilitation is contracted out to private providers.  Some rehabilitation providers are better than others.  The goal (supposedly) of the rehabilitation case manager is to assist the worker in whatever way possible to return to work with their former employer doing their pre-injury duties.  If the worker will not be able to return to the worker’s pre-injury duties, the case manager should try and find alternative duties with the employer that the worker can do.

The key issue is your capacity.  Your capacity to work is determined by your treating general practitioner who has to set out in each workers compensation medical certificate provided whether you are completely unfit for work, fit for reduced hours and/or light duties, or fit for your pre-injury duties and hours.  If you reach a point where you are fit for your pre-injury and hours, the insurer will stop your weekly payments and you hopefully return to your old work, earning your pre-injury wages and live happily thereafter.  If you are certified fit for light duties or reduced hours, your case manager (from the compensating authority, which is likely to be Employers Mutual Limited, or your rehabilitation provider should liaise with your employer and get you back to work working within those restrictions.

If you are going to take some time to return to your full pre-injury duties, your case manager, rehabilitation provider, doctor and yourself are supposed to work together to get you back doing as much as possible.  You will have to sign a Rehabilitation and Return to Work Plan.  The Plan places obligations on yourself and the insurer.  You will have to provide medical certificates on time, attend all medical and other appointments, comply with your treatment, attend any case conferences set up to discuss your rehabilitation or any work hardening or work experience placements that form part of the Plan.  You do not have to agree with everything in the Plan.  The Plan just has to be reasonable.

Sometimes, whether a Plan is reasonable can be the subject of dispute.  If you do not comply with your rehabilitation obligations, the insurer can cut off your weekly payments.  Hence, it is important to provide your medical certificates on time as the insurer often does not process fortnightly income maintenance payments without an up-to-date certificate, and it is important to make an appointment to see a doctor in advance so your certificate never runs out.

The employer has an obligation to provide you with suitable duties if those duties are available.  This does not mean that the employer has to have a designated position where those suitable duties are available.  There does not have to be a vacancy work.  Whether or not an employer has suitable duties for you it is an issue between the employer, the insurer and the rehabilitation provider.

Sometimes, if the employer is small and is clear that the worker will never return to their pre-injury duties, and if there is a financial burden on the employer to have to replace that worker and pay them to sit around doing duties that are not really contributing to the employer’s productivity, the insurer and the employer can enter into an agreement where your employment is terminated and the insurer take on the responsibility of paying you, rehabilitating you and finding you suitable alternative employment.

The larger the employer, the less likely that WorkCover will agree to relieve the employer of its obligations, as WorkCover believes that large employers should have more flexibility in accommodating injured workers in the long term.

There are several standard do and don’ts with injured workers and rehabilitation. These are as follows:

1.             Keep your medical certificates up-to-date.  This is essential. If you do not, the insurer will cut off your payment.  If your certificate is late, the insurer may pay you late which can be the difference between paying your mortgage on time and being late and incurring default fee.  Hence, make sure that you keep the certificates up-to-date at all times’ (and that it clearly specifies what you can and can’t do);

2.             Do not resign.  I have come across some workers who believe (the insurer will not tell them otherwise) that if the doctor tells them that they will never be able to return to their old pre-injury duties, that they have to resign.  That is not true.  If you are in that position, the insurer has an obligation to rehabilitate you and the employer’s obligation to provide you with work that you have the capacity to do.  It is not your fault.  If you resign, your weekly payments will be cut off as well as your rehabilitation.  You do not have to sacrifice your employment because you cannot perform your old duties.  It was not your fault that you were injured.  It is the obligation of the insurer, your rehabilitation provider and your employer to act in cooperation with yourself and your doctor to find a pathway for you to keep working;

3.             Do not commit any acts that would constitute serious and wilful misconduct.  While the employer has an obligation to keep providing you suitable duties, and you cannot be sacked simply because you are an injured worker, you do not have a licence to do what you like.  If you punch the boss or steal money, you can still be sacked on the spot for serious and wilful misconduct even if you are on WorkCover.

For more information about surviving workcover in SA head on over to TGB’s website – WorkCover Survival Kit, Adelaide injury lawyer Mal Byrne writes about workers compensation claims in SA  (7 parts)

 Related article:

Workcover survival kit and Guide



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