Intimidation of injured workers means many vulnerable Victorians are missing out on compensation and support following workplace incidents.
Speaking on the eve of National Worksafe Week (October 24 to November 1), Slater and Gordon workcover lawyer Meghan Hoare said employers were putting pressure on injured workers not to report their injuries as work-related to protect their businesses from increased WorkCover premiums.
She said the firm had encountered a growing number of cases, often involving workers with limited English language skills, where bosses were exploiting poor understanding of Victoria’s WorkCover scheme to avoid being held accountable for unsafe workplace practices.
“The lodgement of claims does affect premiums and unfortunately were seeing some employers using various subtle intimidation tactics in order to reduce the likelihood of a claim,” Ms Hoare said.
She cited three of the firm’s current cases – including one involving a South Sudanese man in danger of losing his left leg as a result of chemical burns at work at a Brooklyn food processing plant – where clients were actively discouraged from making WorkCover claims.
“We are dealing with two cases arising out of incidents at the same Brooklyn workplace where the injured workers were advised by their boss not to report their injuries as work related,” Ms Hoare said.
“We’re talking about the intimidation of workers when they are at their most vulnerable.”
In both cases the workers later became aware of their right to claim compensation after telling their stories to medical staff at western suburbs hospitals who then advised them of their entitlement to lodge WorkCover claims.
“The common thread is usually that the workers are in a vulnerable position, whether it’s because of language barriers or because they are from cultures that are less likely to question authority and they fear that going against the advice of their boss will impact on their job security and their families,” Ms Hoare said.
Another case involved a female employee at an inner-city supermarket who suffered a serious back injury requiring surgery as a result of her job which involved repetitive bending and lifting heavy boxes over her head.
Her surgeon confirmed the injury was a result of her work activities and ordered her not to return to her pre-injury duties for at least a year. However, her employer actively discouraged her from making a WorkCover claim and told her they would not support her if she pursued a claim and she later resigned due to her treatment.
In all three cases, Slater and Gordon is now pursuing WorkCover claims but such claims are often complicated by the fact that the workers did not lodge claims within the required timeframe.
“Sometimes a year or two will go by for a person forced out of work after of a workplace injury and they will be relying on Centrelink or putting their health at further risk by working through the pain when they should have been compensated under the WorkCover scheme,” Ms Hoare said.