As in most states and territories of Australia, employers in Queensland are obliged by law – the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 – to insure their workers against work-related injuries, unless you are a licensed self-insurer.
The compulsory workers’ compensation scheme covers casual and permanent, and full and part-time employees, as well as some self-employed workers and those deemed to be workers (such as interns, work experience students, or volunteers, for example).
It’s natural for an employee in any of those categories to worry that by lodging a claim for compensation because of an injury sustained at work, they will upset their employer and lose their job. There is an obvious imbalance between the financial and legal resources of a company when compared with those of a worker.
But the relevant legislation also provides protection for a worker who can’t work in their usual position because of a work-related injury or disease. Specifically, it’s unlawful for employers to use this as a reason to dismiss a worker within 12 months of the injury/illness, with penalties in place should this occur. If this situation applies to you, consult legal professionals with expertise in employment law and compensation claims so you know your rights and responsibilities.
What happens when a workers’ compensation claim is made?
If you’re injured at work and make a claim under the workers’ compensation scheme, it’s possible to be awarded weekly payments, the costs of medical treatment and care, and a lump sum if your impairment is permanent.
Importantly, workers’ compensation operates on a ‘no fault’ basis – compensation can be paid to the injured worker regardless of who was at fault for causing the injury. In Queensland, all such claims must first be lodged as a statutory claim under the workers’ compensation scheme.
The type of injuries and diseases caused by work which can be the subject of a WorkCover claim include:
- Diseases or pre-existing conditions made worse by work;
- injuries suffered while in the workplace or traveling for work;
- work-related illnesses (such as stress or anxiety caused by work).
If you believe your injury was caused by the negligence of your employer, you retain the right to lodge a common law claim against the employer. This claim can usually only proceed after a statutory claim has been accepted by WorkCover Queensland and a notice of assessment of injury has been issued.
A common law negligence claim pursued on your behalf by an expert compensation legal professional can result in a much larger damages payment in comparison with the statutory scheme. You could be awarded common law damages for past and future economic loss (such as loss of wages and superannuation payments); pain and suffering; legal costs; past and future medical and hospital costs, including paid care and assistance. An award of common law damages will be reduced by any amount of compensation already paid by WorkCover to the injured worker.
As with a claim under the legislated scheme, an employer is not able to terminate your employment on the basis that you have made a common law claim against them.
The right to return to your job
An injured worker who makes a claim for compensation can ask to be returned to their old job within 12 months of sustaining the work-related injury or disease. Your employer will require a doctor’s medical certificate as proof that you are fit to resume work.
If your employer indicates an unwillingness to allow you to return to work, you should take your matter to Queensland’s Industrial Relations Commission. Your legal representative and/or a union or industry body representative can assist you in this process. The Commission can direct an employer to restore you to your old job. Appeals from the Commission’s decisions, whether employer or employee, can be made to the Industrial Court of Queensland.
Contact us to understand your rights
Under Australia’s Fair Work Act employees have protected workplace rights, including the right to make a claim under a state or territory’s workers’ compensation scheme without fear of reprisal, such as losing their job. This remains the case if you’re alleging your employer was negligent and make a common law claim. Strict time limits apply to compensation claims so don’t hesitate – act quickly if you’ve suffered an injury at work.