At least every five years, the state government of the day undertakes a review of the Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act (the Act). The government consults widely with an array of stakeholders to improve processes, clarify issues and introduce new ideas arising as a result of changing community standards and expectations.
The latest review has been ongoing for some time. A Draft Bill has been introduced to Parliament. A Parliamentary Committee is considering the Bill and continuing the consultation process.
Although the modern issue of workers’ compensation coverage for workers in the “gig economy” has been put aside for now, set out below are our pick of some interesting issues open for discussion in the Bill.
- Exempting apologies provided by an employer representative following a workplace injury being considered in any assessment of liability
Such provisions already apply in other injury legislation although the effect of such an apology on a workplace health and safety prosecution needs to be fully considered.
- Appropriate qualifications of rehabilitation and return to work coordinators in larger organisations; continuation of rehabilitation after statutory benefits cease
Rehabilitation has been an important theme in the Act over the last decade and this theme continues.
- Discretion to accept a statutory claim lodged more than six months after a worker is assessed by a doctor
There have been some recent decisions in relation to the existing section of the Act regarding whether late applications for compensation should be accepted. The Bill offers an opportunity for accepting late applications in certain circumstances.
- Coverage for unpaid commercial interns
The Parliamentary Committee will examine whether underpaid interns should have access to workers’ compensation. Thought will need to be applied to the definition of “intern” so as not to include or exclude the right or wrong people.
- Amending the definition of psychological injury from employment being “the major significant contributing factor” to “a significant contributing factor“
This amendment may cause considerable angst to some employers giving the trending increase in claims for psychological injury. The former introduction of the word “major” into the definition of psychological injury was designed to prevent tenuous claims being accepted. If the word “major” is removed from the definition, it will be interesting to see whether more psychological claims are accepted.
As always with Bills, it is important to remember the consultation period is a moving feast and no advice can be given as to whether a Bill will in fact become law. The objective will be served if, when enacted, the law strikes a proper balance (accepted by the community) amongst all relevant stakeholders and principally workers and employers.