Work-related depression pay ends after three years

Employees developed debilitating symptoms post-accident

Work-related depression pay ends after three years

In a recent case, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal considered whether an applicant, who had sustained an aggravation to a pre-existing condition following a workplace incident in 2014, should continue to receive compensation for her medical treatment and incapacity for work.

The applicant commenced working for the Australian Taxation Office (the ATO) in 2013. In February 2014, she called a taxpayer, who, during the phone call, grew irritated, started screaming, and threatened to commit suicide.

The applicant reported the incident to police and, once the taxpayer was sufficiently calm, discontinued the call. She said she had never been “more scared, more terrified” in her life.

Following the incident, the applicant began developing debilitating symptoms at work, such as headaches, panic attacks and vision impairment. She lodged a claim for workers’ compensation in respect of “[s]tress due to suicide phone call received on behalf of the ATO”.

Following the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (the SRC Act), Comcare accepted liability to compensate the applicant in respect of her injury, which was described as an “aggravation of major depressive disorder, recurrent episode.”

The “aggravation” referred to the applicant’s pre-existing major depression, which she had been diagnosed with after developing a calf neurofibroma in 2005.

The applicant continued to receive compensation until October 2017, at which time Comcare determined to cease payments. It asserted that, from 30 September 2017, it had no present liability to pay compensation to the applicant under the SRC Act.

The applicant applied to the Tribunal for a review of the decision. With the support of her psychiatrist, she submitted that she continued to experience symptoms including nervousness, anxiety, depression, headaches, and vision impairment, all of which she credited to the 2014 incident.

The Tribunal heard from several other expert witnesses, including Dr Champion, who, at Comcare’s request, assessed the applicant in July 2018.

Dr Champion opined that the impact of the 2014 incident would have ceased by the time the applicant left the ATO in December 2015. Further, he found that her current anxious and depressive systems instead resulted from an “underlying constitutional personality disorder”.

The Tribunal preferred Dr Champion’s evidence to that of the applicant’s psychiatrist, finding that the psychiatrist did not satisfactorily explain why he considered that the applicant’s depressive condition following the 2014 incident was a “new and separate disorder”.

With this, the Tribunal affirmed Comcare’s decision to cease compensation.

Key Takeaways:

  • Where a workplace incident results in a transient injury, Comcare may cease compensation payments after a period of time

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