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Teachers workers’ compensation claims on the rise

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Please note that this post was written for Queensland audiences and the information within may not apply to other regions.

Teaching is one of the most important professions in society. Educators make a huge difference in shaping the next generation. And while they might look like tough superheroes on the outside, statistics show teachers are increasingly being assaulted in the workplace.

Recent publicity has brought to light the alarming increase in the incidence of student on teacher violence and workplace bullying. And consequently, the rise in WorkCover claims by teachers and school staff. It draws timely attention to this concerning issue and useful context to explain teachers’ rights to workers’ compensation in Queensland.

In recent years, the personal injury industry has seen a rise in common law claims relating to teachers and educators.

It’s an unfortunate reality that our state’s educators are suffering from serious physical and psychological injuries and illnesses, as evidenced by the nearly 90 per cent increase in WorkCover Queensland claims over the past six years.

These claims equal more than $322 million in workers’ compensation to Queensland teaching staff since 2015 – including $64 million during the 2020-21 financial year and nearly $42 million this financial year to date.

Safe Work Australia reported that the Education and Training industry measured just under 7,400 serious workers’ compensation claims in the 2019-20 period nationally, which equals a rise of 25%.

There is a growing workplace safety crisis in our schools, though the Queensland Teachers’ Union believes that school staff have heavily under-reported the true extent of physical and psychological stress and abuse at work for a long time.

Common teacher injuries

An article published in the Courier Mail claimed an annual Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing survey showed that in 2018, almost half of all school principals were threatened with violence, and a third were physically attacked.

Claims data from the Queensland Education Department shows teachers experience a range of injuries from mental disorders, to muscle strains and sprains, lacerations, bruises, fractures and diseases.

Some of the most common are back injuries including muscle or tendon related strains. But as noted, what is becoming progressively alarming is the rise in occurrences of physical abuse and psychological injuries stemming from bullying at work and work pressures.

Teachers’ rights to WorkCover compensation claims

In Queensland, teachers are entitled to workers’ compensation just like anyone else if they’re injured in the course of employment – that is to say, generally, at work or during a work-related activity, including if they are assaulted by a student.

The type of compensation an injured teacher may be eligible to claim, however, depends on the circumstances. WorkCover Queensland offers two types of compensation: statutory benefits and common law.

Every injured worker in Queensland has an entitlement to statutory benefits if their job was a significant contributing factor to the injury or illness. Statutory WorkCover benefits are weekly payments that include coverage for wage replacement while off work, medical and rehabilitation costs, and help returning to work.

These entitlements are granted on a no-fault basis – meaning it doesn’t matter whose fault the injury was (or if it was anyone’s fault in the first place), as long as it happened at or because of work in some way.

The other option is a common law claim, but this is only available to those who were injured due to a breach in the duty of care owed by the employer – that is to say it was essentially the employer’s fault the injury happened.

In the case of students assaulting teachers or school staff, to establish whether the injured teacher is eligible for a common law claim for damages, they have an obligation to prove there was negligence on the part of the school.

This would involve determining whether or not the school knew, should have known, the student had a history of repeat violent behaviour and whether or not the school had done anything in the past to mitigate it (such as suspension, or expulsion).

If it’s found the student that assaulted the teacher had no prior history of violent behaviour, it would be difficult to prove negligence on the part of the school.

Though this doesn’t mean teachers aren’t entitled to anything – they are still entitled to a statutory claim if they are off work for a certain amount of time because of the incident and the injury caused by the assault.

Read more things you should know about WorkCover claims here.