Is there a legal claim available for severe work-related stress?

Is there a legal claim available for severe work-related stress?

Briefly, yes. Under Victoria’s WorkCover scheme you may be able to receive compensation for stress caused by your job, if the stress is serious enough to affect your ability to work.

Indeed according to WorkSafe Victoria stress is (after manual handling) the second most common cause of workplace compensation claims in Australia.

The new Victorian WorkCover legislation, the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (Vic) (‘the Act’), defines a workplace injury as “any physical or mental injury”. This definition extends to a pre-existing injury or disease that has recurred or has been aggravated due to the worker’s employment.

A worker can make a claim under the legislation if this injury has affected “the earning capacity of a worker of a worker’s opportunities for employment”.

However, a worker will not be able to claim for stress and any resulting psychological injury if the stress was caused by reasonable management action or the worker’s expectation that management would act in a particular way: section 40 of the Act.

Besides the WorkCover scheme, there may also be a legal claim available under the law of negligence.

In the recent case of Swan v Monash Law Book Co-operative [2013] VSC 326 the plaintiff suffered a psychiatric injury as a result of a stressful work environment and bullying. The Victorian Supreme Court found that the employer had been negligent. The Court awarded the plaintiff $292,554.38 for past and future lost earnings, and $300,000 for “pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life” [at 263].

If serious work-related stress is damaging your performance at work and family life, or even preventing you from attending work at all, you should seek legal advice.

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