What does the workers’ compensation amendment Bill mean for my practice?

Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019

Queensland’s Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (WCR Act) establishes a workers’ compensation scheme for Queensland, providing benefits following workplace injuries or fatalities, and requiring employers to be covered against related liability either under a WorkCover insurance policy or under a licence as a self-insurer.

An independent review has recently been undertaken to assess the effectiveness of the scheme and its current rehabilitation and return to work programs. This review proposed a number of changes to the WCR Act, which are currently being considered by the Queensland Parliament.

In this article our health business lawyers summarise the changes most relevant to health practice owners and what they mean for you.

(a) WorkCover funded prevention initiatives

The Bill proposes that WorkCover be given the ability to fund programs and provide incentives to encourage improved health and safety performance by employers.

(b) Employer expressions of regret or apologies

The review recognised the positive outcomes possible when employers offer a sincere apology to a worker following a workplace injury but acknowledged that many employers are hesitant to apologise to workers, fearing that it will be interpreted as an admission of liability.

The Bill proposes exempting expressions of regret and apologies by employers from being considered in assessing liability under the WCR Act.

(c) Rehabilitation and return to work coordinators

Rehabilitation and Return to Work Coordinators (RRTWC) support injured workers to return to work, including through supporting managers to develop return to work plans.

The Bill proposes requiring employers to provide their insurer with details of their RRTWC. To ensure RRTWCs are appropriately qualified, the Bill also proposes the publication of a list of training courses or qualifications for RRTWC. These courses or qualifications would not be mandatory but would support an employer’s justification that their RRTWC are appropriately qualified.

(d) Accredited rehabilitation and return to work programs

Injured workers are entitled to rehabilitation and return to work support from their insurer and employer while receiving compensation but this support can currently end before rehabilitation and return to work is complete for various reasons.

The Review recognised that interrupting an injured worker’s rehabilitation and return to work program when they still have benefit to be gained from it puts their sustainable return to work at risk.

So, the Bill proposes a mandatory referral of injured workers to an accredited rehabilitation and return to work program if they request it while receiving compensation or if their entitlement to compensation has ended but they have not yet been able to return to work.

Insurers may refer the worker at any stage during the claim but may also deny a referral request if it decides the program will not assist the worker.

(e) Self-insured employers required to notify of injuries which may be compensable

The WCR Act currently only requires premium-paying employers to notify of all workplace injuries to WorkCover, and excludes self-insurers. The Bill proposes removing the self-insurer exemption.

(f) Allow insurers to waive the six-month time limit on lodging a claim if a worker lodges a claim within 20 business days of developing an incapacity for work from their injury

Currently, a worker must lodge an application for compensation within six months of the date they are assessed by a doctor for their injury. This requirement has been interpreted as meaning that the six-month time limit begins from when the worker is assessed as having a total or partial incapacity for work. This interpretation negatively impacts workers who attempt to manage their injury at work before deteriorating, and do not lodge a claim when they are first assessed by the doctor, but at a later time when they become incapacitated for work.

The Bill proposes expanding the reasons an insurer may waive the six-month time limit to include where the worker lodges their claim within 20 business days of the certification of their total or partial incapacity for work.

(g) Extend workers’ compensation coverage to unpaid interns

While WorkCover may provide insurance to schools and registered training organisations to cover students in the workplace, currently any other unpaid interns are not covered by the workers’ compensation scheme.

The Bill proposes that unpaid interns now be deemed as workers and be entitled to access workers’ compensation benefits.

(h) Amend the meaning of injury for a psychiatric or psychological disorder to remove ‘the major’ as a qualifier for employment’s ‘significant contribution’ to the injury

The WCR Act only considers psychiatric or psychological illness to be eligible for compensation if the employment is ‘the major significant contributing factor’ to the injury.

To better align with legislation in other states and territories, the Bill proposes that employment be ‘a significant contributing factor’ to the psychiatric or psychological injury.

(i) Insurers to offer workers with psychiatric or psychological injuries access to reasonable services during claim determination

The Review noted that in 2017-18 the average duration to decide a psychological injury claim was 34 working days, but recognised that early intervention for injuries assists to minimise the impact and duration of an injury.

Therefore, the Bill proposes to require insurers to provide reasonable support services (other than hospitalisation) for workers with a psychological injury while their claim is being determined. Providing these supports would not be treated as an admission of liability by the employer for the injury.

Workers can access these supports by submitting an application with a work capacity certificate diagnosing the work-related psychiatric or psychological injury.  An application can be denied if the insurer has evidence that the injury is not work-related or if a recent claim has been denied for the same or a related injury event.

For comprehensive information regarding the Bill you can access the Explanatory Notes here.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is a summary of key information in the Bill only and is not a comprehensive advice on the Bill.  It is not legal advice.

If you would like advice from a specialist health business lawyer, don’t hesitate to contact us here or our Director, Chris Setter on 0477 211 732 or chris@healthlawsolutions.com.au.