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Why is there still a stigma about workers’ compensation?

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Insurance. It’s available for almost everything – cars, homes, health, income, travel. If the need arises, we jump at the chance to claim on these insurances.

This begs to ask the question: then why are we still judged for claiming against insurance for injuries that aren’t our fault?

Car accidents, work injuries, slips, trips or falls because of someone else’s negligence: whatever it may be, the negative labelling and discrimination is real. But for what purpose?

Compulsory Third Party insurance is compulsory for every vehicle owner to cover them for car or road accident injuries they may cause to other people.

Public liability insurance is there for businesses and organisations to cover them if someone is injured on their premises or because of their services.

And workers’ compensation insurance is compulsory for all employers so injured workers can be supported during their recovery, which consequently eases the burden on everyone.

These insurance policies exist for a reason; they are no different to car insurance or disability insurance; and making a compensation claim against them is well within your legal rights.

What is the workers’ compensation / injured workers stigma?

According to Safe Work Australia, in 2019-20 there were 120,355 serious workplace injury and illness claims across the country. The injuries cost each injured worker an average of five to seven weeks of work.

When looking at claiming workers’ compensation specifically, research studies report the stigma often takes form of stereotypes about injured workers. Like that injured workers are lazy, weak, and irresponsible bludgers who are just looking for easy money or time off work.

Even though oftentimes (if not most of the time) it’s not about the payout; rather the injury and the pain and loss that comes with it. The money simply affords options like physiotherapy and medication to aid in recovery and ensures your bills are paid and food on the table.

Not only this, but allegations of fraudulent or exaggerated injuries continue to scare people away from seeking help because no one wants to be accused of faking an injury.

It’s also common to fear making claims because of reprisal or unethical treatment from their boss or colleagues. That is, employers sometimes contest genuine workers’ compensation claims because they’re afraid the claim will damage their company’s reputation or make their insurance premiums skyrocket.

And because of this, we see employers actively discouraging injured workers from reporting their injuries and filing claims, and injured workers fearing that they’ll get fired and threatening termination if they do (despite the fact the law prohibits discrimination or retaliation in this way).

While it is true that workers’ compensation claims do impact the employer to some extent (by way of higher premiums), the scheme is there to protect them from much larger expenses like having to fork out the lost income and medical costs themselves.

How the stigma of workers’ compensation claims impacts injured workers / Why workplace injury stigma is a problem

This stigma can impact work, relationships, mental health and physical health. It not only prevents workers from getting the compensation they legally deserve, but it can make their injuries worse, impact their recovery, and cause additional social and psychological harm.

It can impact an injured worker’s enthusiasm to return to work as workers think people at work would treat them differently if they made a workers’ compensation claim.

In fact, research reports state it’s also a factor that causes workers to be hesitant to report and disclose injuries and illnesses in the first place.

It can also go as far as making the injured worker feel shame for not being able to care or provide for their family in the usual ways.

And as long as these stereotypes and stigmas exist, injured workers will continue to minimise their pain, even though they rightly deserve compensation for their suffering.

Removing the workers’ compensation stigma in the workplace / How to remove the workers’ compensation stigma in the workplace

We need to remove the stigma workers feel when claiming for a work-related injury.

Why? Well, according to the National Return to Work Survey 2018, workers who weren’t phased about making a claim were 3.1 times more likely to return to work in some capacity.

And isn’t that the whole aim?

Studies suggest that creating a positive workplace culture is key to supporting injured workers getting back to work, and ridding of the stigma about injuries and compensation claims.

A research paper between Griffith University and Safe Work Australia released in June 2021 developed seven recommendations that businesses, employers, policy makers, insurers and workers’ compensation authorities ought to work on to make this happen:

1.    Building leadership capability
2.    Implement formal policies and procedures to reduce stigma
3.    Change cultural attitudes towards injured workers
4.    Monitor the effectiveness of stigma reduction strategies
5.    Raise awareness of the impact of stigma in the workplace
6.    Undertake further research on behaviours impacting workplace stigma
7.    Improve data collection of the impact of stigma