Fact: if you have suffered a workplace injury or illness it can be extremely difficult if not impossible to find new employment because injured workers “must” disclose all pre-existing medical conditions if the employer requests it. Is being honest about your pre-existing injury/illness the only way to go?
Getting a new job after a workplace injury
A few years after my accident, I was also unfortunately sacked by my longstanding employer (where my accident happened). The termination letter went essentially on about the inherent job requirements, where my employer had taken it upon itself to judge my work capacity. At the time I did have a certificate of capacity issued by a top specialist, allowing me to continue in my position, with the same physical restrictions as before my surgery (number 6). I felt as though I had been severely punished by my employer, for being injured in the first place and for trying so hard to stay at work and improve my condition. It was a slap in face, after 10 years of loyal service, and losing my (beloved) job (and identity) plunged me into a very severe depression.
When my injury appeared to have ‘stabilised’, I applied for several similar jobs with other employers. I had a very good work reputation and was well-known within the industry. I actually was offered two positions spontaneously by 2 different employers when they heard I was looking for a new job. I passed the interviews with flying colours and was verbally informed I was the preferred candidate for the job, UNTIL my disclosure of my workcover claim made its way to the employer’s HR.
So, the question is how do we go about disclosure of injury/illness when applying for a new job, without being ‘discriminated’ against?
Apart from QLD, there is no real legal obligation per se to disclose your past injuries/illnesses and/or past workcover claims, unless the injury/illness may affect your ability to meet the inherent requirements of the job.
Of course, in a perfect world we should all be honest and upfront and readily disclose our injuries to prospective employers. However, we’re talking about SURVIVAL: finding and getting a new job and surviving it so we can feed ourselves and our family.
Let’s say you had a back injury and applied for a job as a window cleaner. Now your back injury does not really fit with a cleaning job, given the constant bending, lifting etc. required. But you are broke, have been kicked off the workcover system and have a family to feed… Let’s say you were to be successful in your application for this job, and you hurt your back again, or aggravate your pre-existing back injury, you would NOT be able to lodge a new workcover claim, and your new employer would NOT have any obligations to your nor your injury.
It is therefore important that you declare / disclose any injury you have or had when applying for a new job.
However, if you disclose your pre-existing injury, you will be (often) very restricted in being successful in obtaining a new job. Employers do NOT want to employ ‘liabilities’ or potential ‘liabilities’ because were you to aggravate your injury, they would become liable for you and for their raised workcover insurance premiums.
Should injured/ill workers be honest in their job applications?
Is being honest about your pre-existing injury/illness the only way to go?
Generally speaking your prospective employer will not ask verbal questions about past or current injuries/illnesses and workcover claims during the job interview itself. However, when you pass the interview and the new employer is serious about employing you, then they will (most often) get you to undergo a medical assessment. This is the tricky part where you have to fill in (and sign) forms which often ask about past injuries, even mental illnesses. Some employers will also have you tested for drugs, and it can sometimes detect certain prescription medications. Generally speaking these forms also clearly warn you that you could be terminated/dismissed if you’re not being truthful about past and current injuries and illnesses.
Obviously being honest has its advantages, such as a mutual ‘trust’ rapport, ensuring you are looked after with re to workplace practices, ergonomics etc. but being honest about past and /or current injuries/illnesses will often lead to you not getting the job.
For example, on your application or medical assessment forms, you may disclose a past psychological injury knowing that you are deemed fully fit to work by both your own treating doctors(s) and a workcover doctor (i.e. IME). The employer’s doctor may be or appear very supportive of you during your medical assessment, but – you guessed it- you were not hired once you disclosed any past injury/illness. Such experience is extremely common.
To disclose or not to disclose
Some employers may ask you fairly generic questions (during the interview, at the medical or on application forms) such as:
Have you had any condition that may affect your work?
Now, if your workcover claim is old and you have long been cleared for work, then – in our opinion -the appropriate answer would be “No”. Simple, no further digging is needed.
However, some employers may ask you a more specific question, such as:
Have you had any physical or psychological injury from work?
If you answer “Yes”, you will (most likely) NOT get the job.
Many of us have been totally upfront with prospective employers about our injuries, as we’d like to believe it would be wrong to hide an injury or illness just so you can get to the job offer … and then drop the “injury” or “illness” or “workcover claim” bomb on the new employer. Only to find out we did not get the job because of it.
Each to his/her own – You’re the boss of your decision-making re disclosure. Good luck!
Do any others have experience of disclosure while job seeking under a WorkCover Certificate of Capacity, or when job seeking after a workplace injury/illness?
[Post dictated by WCV and transcribed on her behalf]