Health Awareness Month – Mental Health in the Workplace

$6,500,000,000 ($6.5 billion) – is the amount that Australian businesses lose each year by failing to provide early intervention/treatment for employees with mental health condition (according to preliminary research).

Around 45% of all Australians aged between 16 and 85 will experience a mental illness at some point in their life. One in five (25%) of all Australian adults will experience a mental illness in any given year.

In recent times there has been more and more awareness about the importance of mental health. The discussion of mental health has become far less stigmatised than it previously used to be.

There used to be a strong social perception that if someone had issues with their mental health, that person would be seen as ‘weak‘ or ‘crazy‘. That perception has now improved, thanks to education and people speaking out about their own mental health issues.

Mental illness used to be somewhat of a taboo topic of conversation, but given that almost half of all Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, it is now important that we understand our rights and entitlements if a mental illness arises from your employment.

Your employer has the following obligations in relation to the management of mental illness in the workplace:

    1. Ensuring health and safety: OHS legislation requires employers to ensure their workplace is safe and healthy for all workers and does not cause ill health or aggravate existing conditions.
    2. Avoiding discrimination: disability discrimination legislation requires employers to ensure the workplace does not discriminate against or harass workers with mental illness. Employers are also required to make reasonable adjustments to meet the needs of workers with mental illness.
    3. Ensuring privacy: privacy legislation requires employers to ensure personal information about a worker’s mental health status is not disclosed to anyone without the worker’s consent.
    4. Avoiding adverse actions: employers are also required under Commonwealth industrial law to ensure the workplace does not take any adverse action against a worker because of their mental illness.

As a worker, you are legally obliged to:

  • Take reasonable care for your own health and safety.
  • Take reasonable care that your acts and omissions do not adversely affect the health or safety of others.
  • Cooperate with any reasonable instructions to ensure workplace health and safety.

If you develop a mental illness due to your employment (or if your mental illness has worsened as a result of your employment), you could have rights under the Workers Compensation Act. These rights may include weekly payments from your employer’s workers compensation insurer.

For the first 13 weeks a worker is entitled to receive 95% of their pre injury average weekly earnings minus the value of any deductible amount. The current maximum weekly payment an insurer is obliged to pay is $2,042.80 per week. If you earn more than the maximum amount per week, the insurer is not obliged to pay more than the maximum.

From 14 to 130 weeks the insurer is obliged to pay 80% of your pre injury average (minus the value of any deductible and taking into consideration the maximum weekly payments mentioned above).

Generally weekly payments will cease after 260 weeks (5 years).

You are also entitled to a lump sum compensation payment if you are assessed as having suffered 15% whole person impairment or greater as a result of a psychological injury. The amount of compensation available will depend upon the deemed date of a worker’s injury as well as the percentage of whole person impairment.