This mental health month, we’re exploring ways to support an employee who has sustained a psychological injury at work, whether it’s ok to ask an employee about their mental health history, and providing a mentally healthy workplace for all employees.

Lodgment of a psychological injury claim

If you believe an employee has sustained a psychological injury speak with them and find out if they are ok. Talk with your employee about what supports they can access through the workplace (eg EAP) and about the steps for lodging a claim if that’s what the employee would like to do.

You can support the claims process by being available to discuss the claim with the case manager. During initial contact with the case manager you will be asked to provide background to the claim, the employee’s job description and duties, information on their employee’s weekly wages and any relevant information the case manager believes could assist with the claim.

If you have concerns about the claim, it is best to advise the case manager during first contact to ensure the appropriate claim process is followed.

If you are notified of an employee’s intention to lodge a claim you should:

  • Listen to their concerns
  • Refer them to any support services available through the workplace, eg EAP, peer support groups
  • Advise your employee to make a GP appointment where they will complete a Certificate of Capacity
  • Lodge the claim on behalf of your employee
  • Make yourself available to discuss the claim with the case manager and have the required information readily available
  • Advise the case manager of any suitable duties or modifications that could be made to facilitate return to work
  • Maintain regular contact with your employee
The most successful outcomes are achieved when employers help the worker to feel empowered and supported throughout the claims process. 

Supporting return to work after psychological injury

Psychological injury is a major cause of employee turnover (Safe Work Australia, 2019), so it’s not surprising that our case managers report many injured workers find jobs with a new employer when they’re ready to return to work. This is particularly common for claims involving allegations of bullying, harassment, negative workplace perceptions or feelings of injustice.

In our claims management experience, we generally find that the biggest influence on whether a worker will return to work with their pre-injury employer are the actions taken by their pre-injury employer.

We find that employers who are supportive, open to discussion, open to negotiation and willing to make changes to help accommodate a worker’s return to work tend to have the best outcomes for assisting with a return to work at the same workplace.

Health and wellbeing are negatively impacted by prolonged work absence and unemployment. Long-term unemployment can increase the challenge of re-entering the workforce, contributing to a downward spiral. The good news is that the opposite is also true. Good work is good for health and wellbeing, and for recovery from all types of injuries.

Staying at work or finding employment at another location or business helps workers’ self-esteem and sense of community and connectedness, provides a regular amount of physical activity, a daily structure, and provides financial security.

Recruiting a person who has a claim history

Employers cannot ask a potential employee if they’ve ever claimed workers compensation because a person’s claim history isn’t relevant to their performance ability. This information could be discriminatory if the employer factors it into the decision about whether to hire the candidate (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2019).

It is OK to ask a potential employee if they have any pre-existing injuries or conditions that may impact their ability to perform the advertised role. It’s also appropriate to ask whether a potential employee requires any reasonable adjustments in order to carry out the advertised role.

Employers have a responsibility to provide workers with a safe environment and assist in making reasonable accommodations to ensure employees’ safety needs are met.

Foster a positive mental health culture at your workplace

Creating a positive mental health means having respect and genuine care for your employees.

It means creating a workplace where you listen to a colleague’s concerns, offer them support and redirect them to the relevant support providers if required (eg EAP, doctor, Lifeline).

It does not mean that you act as a counsellor to employees, and you need to make sure you’re looking after your own mental wellbeing in order to be able to support your employees.

A positive mental health culture is something that is achieved when all employees – whether they are senior manager, middle manager or front end staff – work towards promoting this mentality.

It requires open, respectful, non-discriminative discussion between all employees.

Establish clear expectations about what respectful behaviour looks like, and ensure managers and senior leaders are modelling this behaviour. Your workplace leaders also need to provide swift and direct feedback to individuals, and non-discriminative “call outs” in wider internal forums when disrespectful behaviour is noted.

A great resource for employers and managers to achieve better mental health in the workplace is the Heads up website

Looking after your own mental wellbeing

Remember to take care of your own mental health. You cannot support your team’s wellbeing or perform your best if your own mental wellbeing is poor.

Here’s a simple guide to looking after your mental wellbeing:

  1. Take a full lunch break, away from your work station to really get a break
  2. Start and finish work on time
  3. Maintain a balanced diet
  4. Keep physically active
  5. Get sufficient sleep
  6. Maintain a positive work-life balance: avoid checking work emails after hours or while on leave
  7. Recognise when you’re having a bad day or are under stress
  8. Reach out for help: sometimes a quick chat is all that’s needed, with a close work colleague in a break-out room
  9. If the matter is serious or is significantly impacting you, consider consulting your GP who is qualified to assess your health and can link you with appropriate community-based resources

Managing mental health claims

Psychological or mental health claims represent around 6% of all workers compensation claims (Safe Work Australia, 2019), and they are on the rise.

At EML we have dedicated teams for managing mental health claims, and psychology specialists providing advice as required by any case manager. Whilst around 6% of claims are primary psychological, the impact of a physical injury and a person’s psychosocial situation can increase the risk of secondary mental health impacts.

Information for this article was provided by EML Injury Management Specialist Alex Chen:
“Within my team, I am the subject matter expert on workplace injury management practices. My role is to support case managers with reviewing treatment and provide insight on the return to work process to help deliver the most effective return to life outcomes. I have university qualifications in psychology, health science and Rehabilitation and have worked firsthand with workers and employers in the management of both physical and psychological injuries.”

You can access a range of video resources, articles and community support services from our mental health collection.