Psychological injury

Psychological injury is the main form of injury associated with work-related stress. The laws covering psychological vary according to which state you are in or whether you are an Australian government employee. Psychological injury claims are sometimes known as 'stress claims'.

Each jurisdiction has slightly different definitions of an injury and degree to which employment contributes to the injury for a claim to be accepted. For example, according to the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (SRC) Act (which covers government employees), injury means:

  • a disease suffered by an employee; or
  • an injury (other than a disease) suffered by an employee, being a physical or mental injury arising out of, or in the course of, the employee’s employment; or
  • an aggravation of a physical or mental injury (other than a disease) suffered by an employee (whether or not that injury arose out of, or in the course of, the employee’s employment)
  • being an aggravation that arose out of, or in the course of, that employment; but does not include any such disease, injury or aggravation suffered by an employee as a result of reasonable disciplinary action taken against the employee or failure by the employee to obtain a promotion, transfer or benefit in connection with his or her employment.

According to the SRC Act 'disease' means:

  • any ailment suffered by an employee; or
  • the aggravation of any such ailment
  • being an ailment or an aggravation that was contributed to in a material degree by the employee's employment by the Commonwealth or a licensed corporation

According to the SRC Act, for a diagnosed psychological condition to be compensable it must be:

(a) in relation to the employee's 'employment'
and
(b) 'materially contributed' to by the employee's employment.

For more information on the differences between states, see Safe Work Australia's Key Workers’ Compensation Information and your state or territory workers compensation authority ACT, NSW, NT, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, WA.

For more information about psychological injury claims see the Australian Safety and Compensation Council's report Australian Worker's Compensation Law and its Application: Psychological Injury Claims.

The role of early intervention in the prevention of psychological injury claims

Psychological injury claims tend to be more costly and usually involve longer absence periods than physical injury claims. Early intervention for mental health problems, paths to alternative employment where possible and effective conflict resolution where necessary can help prevent many claims occurring. Mental health training can play a key role in assisting supervisors with these processes.

Useful resources

An article from the Australian Psychological Society's InPsych magazine on psychological injury claims Workplace stress: what's causing it and what can be done?

An article from the Australian Psychological Society's InPsych magazine on
Psychological injury in the workplace