Over the past few months we have observed a significant rise in ‘stress claims’. Under the relevant workers compensation legislation in each State, workers have the freedom to lodge a workers’ compensation claim if work can be established as a significant contributing factor to a mental health condition.
Of particular interest is the number of senior staff within organisations that have been lodging claims. In most cases these claims relate to being unreasonably tasked or being contacted and/or required to work excessive hours (outside of their contracted ordinary hours or work). In supporting their contentions, claimants typically tender emails, chats or SMS text messages (that are all date/time stamped) that establish that they have been contacted or forced to work outside of their contracted hours. While in isolation each piece of evidence may not be significant, multiple pieces of correspondence can build a picture that an individual has had to work unreasonably or excessively. While contracts of employment for staff may contain provisions that allow for reasonable additional hours of work, this may not be enough to stop a claim if the weight of evidence indicates that the additional hours has not been reasonable (in the circumstances).
We would offer the following tips to avoid or at the very least mitigate against these types of claims:
- Refrain from communicating with your staff outside of normal working hours. If you do need to communicate make sure that it is only for essential purposes.
- Monitor the correspondence that you receive from your staff. If correspondence is being routinely received outside of the workers contracted hours of work, intervene and conduct proactive counselling (with notes of the session taken) to ensure that they can better manage their work demands (appropriately).
- If you receive a workers’ compensation claim for a mental health condition that has allegedly arisen at work, make sure that you contact us to get advice before responding to the insurer. In certain circumstances such claims can be rejected if the medical condition surfaced as a consequence of reasonable management action implemented in a reasonable way. A good example of this may be receiving a stress claim immediately after you have conducted a disciplinary process with the staff member.
While the workers’ compensation system quite rightly covers mental health conditions that surface in the workplace, it is important that those cases that you do not feel are legitimate are managed appropriately.