Many injured workers have come to dread their weekly or biweekly appointments with their rehabilitation service provider (a rehabber) to help them find alternative work when their own original employers refused to provide them with a return to work plan when they were injured.
Although the workcover laws state that your employer must provide suitable alternative duties or return you to your pre-injury employment or equivalent (if you are fit to do it) for a certain period of time (in Victoria, this time frame is 52 weeks or 1 year; in NSW this timeframe is 6 months) and if reasonable to do so; the sad reality is that many employers will find any excuse to get rid of injured workers as soon as possible. Some employers will allege they are no ‘suitable duties’ available, even when they employ thousands of workers. As such, many injured workers end up having to use an occupational rehabilitation service.
Learn about the workcover rehabilitation service provider (the rehabber)
1. workcover rehabilitation services get paid for getting injured workers back to any work
It is important you understand that workcover rehabilitation service providers are a private business, and a business focussed on making money on the injured worker’s misery. They get paid when they manage to return an injured worker to some form of employment, and that is their primary goal. They, however, could not care less in what menial or humiliating or unsuitable job the injured worker may end up in.
2. Injured workers harassed, threatened and humiliated by rehabbers
Many injured workers report having significant issues with workcover rehabilitation service providers. Rehabbers who don’t offer any support for the jobs injured workers are forced to apply for; rehabbers who coerce and criticise and expect unrealistic outcomes. Many injured workers are put under immense pressure by rehabbers with strict and increasingly tightening job-seeking requirements and many are totally humiliated in the process. Many injured workers report feeling harassed by their unrelenting rehab service provider.
It is quite common for workcover rehabbers to threaten and intimidate injured workers should they not comply, or not increase their job-seeking efforts beyond even those required under Centrelink (Many injured workers have reported that their rehabber was much stricter than Centrelink was in their relentless job-seeking monitoring!). Some rehabbers will write damning criticising letters to the injured worker’s workcover insurance company, who in turn will threaten the injured worker with termination of rehabilitation services.
3. Injured workers should not trust their workcover rehabber
Injured workers are led to believe that workcover rehabilitation service providers exist to support and help the injured worker with securing new or alternative employment. But in reality, most just don’t care and are there for the sole purpose of making money on your misery, by forcing you to apply for countless, unrealistic jobs and, often, by forcing you to lie on your job application(s).
4. The injured worker has a choice of rehab service provider
In some jurisdictions, such as Victoria, the injured worker is allowed to choose a rehabilitation service provider out of a list of three. What they don’t know is that they can change their chosen rehabilitation service provider if they are not happy or experiencing harassment, lack of trust or plain intimidation. Should you not be allowed to change your rehabber, we highly recommend questioning your workcover insurer (eg. Case Manager) as to the reasons why you are not allowed to change.
5. Know your rights and make them clear at the start of your workcover rehab
It is also handy to know that, for example in Victoria, an injured worker can contact the Workcover Advisory service, lodge a complaint and have them investigate the issues you may have with the rehabilitation service provider.
As mentioned above, some workcover rehabbers will force injured workers to lie on their job applications, and this frequently includes omitting that you were injured at work! The workcover law is pretty clear on the subject. In Victoria, the workers’ comp law states that injured workers must inform all prospective employers of their injury (or illness) if the injured worker believes it could affect their work. This is a very important, but often overlooked detail indeed.
Finding new employment is not easy when you have suffered a work injury or work-related illness. Many prospective employers will choose a candidate who is not “damaged”. In other words, why would an employer choose a worker who is prone to anxiety having suffered a mental condition from, for example, harassment in their previous job? Why would an employer choose a worker with an impaired shoulder when there is a long list of fit and able workers to chose from?
The sad reality is that some workcover rehabbers will coerce injured workers to not to tell their prospective employers that they have suffered a work injury or work-related condition, under the assumption that no employer will hire them if they know they have suffered an injury. Some rehabbers will force the injured worker to lie under pretext that once the injured worker has secured a new job, the employer will find it no problem when the work injury is then disclosed.
Even though many prospective employers will choose healthy fit candidates as opposed to injured workers, it is handy to know that if an employer has offered an injured worker a job but then withdraws the offer once they find out the worker has been injured, the injured worker can – theoretically – sue the employer for discrimination.
So what some workcover rehabilitation service providers force injured workers to do (omit/lie about previous injuries/illnesses on job applications) does imply the above: namely that the injured worker could then sue the prospective employer for discrimination. In reality, this coercion is morally unethical. Keep this in mind, and ensure your rehabber knows from the start that you know your rights! It may well help a great deal!
6. Expect unrealistic, denigrating. menial jobs as an injured worker
Injured workers have also reported that the-often- unrealistic job applications were scrutinised by their rehabber and amended (eg. remove the disclosure of work injury). They also report that their rehabber would simply ignore any and all experience and education an injured worker may have and just force injured workers to apply for the most menial, degrading jobs even though they had experience and education as professionals. How would you feel if you were a highly qualified intensive care nurse, but were forced to seek employment as a ward clerk? How about a qualified but traumatised psychologist who is forced to apply for cleaning duties?
7. Workcover rehabilitation service providers’ will try to get you into any type of work
Don’t be surprised that if you are a professional, your workcover rehabilitation consultant will discourage you to seek employment in your field of expertise, but force you to apply for any low paid, menial job instead. The faster they can secure a job for you, the quicker they get a bonus payout from the workcover insurer. It is not about you, but about lining their own pockets. Many injured workers have worked hard for their professional careers, so please do not let some coercive rehabber take this away from you, in order to line their own pocket!
Some workcover rehab consultants are sadly of the opinion that they have the right to force an injured worker in any employment, regardless of the injured worker’s previous profession or trade and regardless of an injured worker’s work experience and qualifications. If a rehabber can get you into any job, they get paid. Period. It certainly does not mean that the rehabber will get you into employment that is somewhat in line with your previous employment, and/or in line with your skills, vocation, interests, qualifications, profession or experience. As mentioned above, you may be a registered nurse or a qualified psychologist, but the little rehabber may force you to apply for a job doing office “adminitration” in a car wash facility. As a matter of fact, I was a highly specialised nurse and the rehabber suggested I work in the building industry or for the Minister. Wow! Another “suitable” job proposed was for me to work as a ward clerk. Even if you are lucky enough to find your own job (eg. self-employment) within your own profession and on a part-time basis, increasing hours as your condition permits, many rehabbers will not allow it for it will need to be a salaried job, and one that’s full-time if you have a full-time work capacity. It’s the only way the rehabber gets paid you see.
8. Other workcover rehabilitation service providers’ tricks
Don’t be surprised if your rehabber requires you to follow up on every job application you have submitted, even if you have received a written acknowledgment of receipt by the prospective employer. You see, rehabbers want your job application to be reminded, increasing your chances of getting the job…duh? Many workcover rehabbers will also force you to follow up every job application with a personal phone call to check on its progress and to find out the reasons as to why you were unsuccessful in your application. As mentioned earlier this workcover rehabilitation service business is a pure profit-driven system and a private company. The larger the rehab firm the less accommodating and the less supportive they are of injured workers. Some injured workers have had better success with small rehab services which tend to have a more personalised, empathic approach. However, it has also been reported that genuinely caring rehab service providers have been harassed, threatened and demoralised by the workcover insurer itself.
Don’t be surprised if you are repeatedly told what to do or else you will be reported to the workcover insurer for not cooperating Any suggestion you may have for a more suitable employment, more aligned with your qualifications and interests will be dismissed. Hell, you could be a funeral director as far as they are concerned, even if you only have experience as a car mechanic.
The workcover law has certain time restraints on getting injured workers back to work, hence rehabbers will pressure injured workers into ANY type of work under the excuse that you should not be allowed to receive workcover benefits if you have a capacity for work. Work is work, even if it means working in the lowest-paid, most menial employment imaginable. So, don’t be surprised if your workcover rehabber bullies you.
A workcover rehabilitation consultant should be working in the injured worker’s best interest – this is actually well stipulated in the worker’s compensation legislation, it’s primary aim to assist injured workers returning to work! Unfortunately, more often than not, this is just not the case.