Can employees claim 'burnout' compensation?

Stress is on the rise – but is it a real 'injury'?

Can employees claim 'burnout' compensation?

In a recent decision, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal considered whether an applicant’s burnout, anxiety and depression constituted an “injury” for the purposes of workers’ compensation. The applicant worked as an Australian Tax Office analyst. At the start of 2017, he received a new supervisor, who worked remotely from Melbourne.

The applicant stated that he coped poorly with his work after the new supervisor took over, which led him to work considerably longer hours. He began suffering from headaches and dizziness and, in May 2017, was hospitalised after collapsing at home.

In 2018, the applicant consulted an ear, nose and throat specialist, who suggested he had a mood disorder. He subsequently consulted with a psychiatrist, who diagnosed him as suffering from “severe major depression with anxiety and panic attacks”, describing the applicant’s symptoms as “very pronounced”.

Following this diagnosis, the applicant made a workers’ compensation claim in respect of “burnout, anxiety and depression”, nominating the relevant period during which he developed the condition to be the first six months of 2017.

The Tribunal considered whether the applicant suffered from an injury within the meaning of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 s 5B in the first six months of 2017 and, if so, whether it was the result of reasonable administrative action taken in respect of his employment.

Comcare relied on an expert witness, who asserted that the absence of medical records showed that the applicant could not have been suffering in 2017. The Tribunal dismissed this argument, given the applicant was not made aware of any psychiatric concern until his diagnosis in 2018.

Comcare also submitted that the applicant’s prior case of depression, diagnosed after his mother’s passing in 2010, predisposed him to develop a psychological condition. However, ultimately, the Tribunal found that this additional factor was “part of the vicissitudes of ordinary life, rather than something that was significantly likely to have caused [the applicant’s] depression”.

The Tribunal agreed with the applicant’s argument that his condition arose due to his increase in work hours, together with negative comments made by his supervisor regarding his work performance.

With this, the Tribunal found that the applicant’s condition was contributed to, to a significant degree, by his employment. It further found that the applicant’s condition was not the result of reasonable administrative action taken in respect of his employment. The Tribunal found in favour of the applicant and set aside the reviewable decision.

Key Takeaways:

  • Mental health conditions may amount to an “injury” for the purposes of workers’ compensation
  • When considering compensation, the Tribunal will assess both work- and non-work-related factors
  • The employee’s condition must be contributed to, to a significant degree, by their employment, in order to succeed in a claim of workers’ compensation

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