Deanne's story part three: unintended outcome

Anna Kelsey-Sugg

How an employer and employee can do the right thing and yet have a bad experience too

It would be nice to bring you a happy ending to wrap up Deanne's workers compensation journey, but unfortunately we don't do fiction here. In this final in the three-part series we hear from the side of Deanne's ex-employer. The employer too is distressed and disappointed by a system which it believes did not look after the interests of her employee or the workplace.

When return to work goes sour, it isn't just the employee who suffers. Deanne's employers had strong, close relationships with their employees. They paid insurance thinking that should anything ever happen to their business and anyone working within it, they and their workers would be covered. When that turned out not to be the case, they were left feeling distressed, confused and more than a little ripped off.

Sari* is the office manager where Deanne worked. After time off work due to her injury Deanne returned to her workplace with a restricted duties plan based on her doctor's advice. Initially Sari felt ill-equipped to help Deanne and unsure of her role in the situation. So she researched.

“Before Deanne came back into the office I did some homework,” said Sari, who had never dealt with a WorkCover claim before and wanted the knowledge to better manage it. “I did some research on the internet and found out what the process was, what the requirements were. I printed off the forms for Deanne to fill out and was ready for her when she came back into the office to assist her and set the wheels in motion.”

Deanne's employers ran a gamut of emotions throughout her WorkCover journey. After feeling unsure about how to deal with it, and being less supportive as a result of this confusion, they then became educated about Deanne's injury and its severity, as well as the path they would need to follow in order to be financially remunerated. When Deanne's employers were armed with all the knowledge they needed – and after some effective communication with Deanne – they fully supported her claim.

So when the claim was rejected, and the decision made to go to conciliation, Deanne and her workplace were very much on the same side.

When Deanne, Sari and another more senior employer arrived at the conciliation meeting their WorkCover Agent representative was delayed by another hearing that was going overtime. When he finally arrived, very late, he seemed flustered and impatient. No discussion took place between him and Deanne's employers before entering the meeting, despite the advice this would occur.

“He didn't ask us our opinion or anything like that. I and my colleague were quite uncomfortable about that because he'd never spent any time asking us what we thought. But we didn't know the process so we just went straight ahead,” said Sari.

“I felt that he was under pressure and rather exhausted from his previous meeting. I felt that he was not really in the mood for conciliation.” Sari and her colleague found themselves at the hands of a person they were relying on for advocacy and advice in an area in which they are not experts, who seemed to have very little time for them.

“He had never taken the time to find out what we thought. He was obviously quite surprised that were not taking the stand 'No it's not our fault'. When he found out that we weren't taking that stance he was almost hostile towards us. He requested time out to speak to me and my colleague. He asked us, 'Ok, well what do you want? What do you think is right?'”

Deanne's employers had no medical judgement but made it clear what they felt was right.

“We paid insurance for all those years and this is a claim and if the medical people believe that it should be paid out then come on, pay up. And then he started to say 'So how should we pay it? What do you think we should pay? We explained what we thought he should pay. We tried to make it clear; we were having really trouble making it clear, not because we were stupid, but because he already had something in his mind. In the end he just quoted legislation back at us and said 'No, sorry, we can't do it.'”

“And he wasn't prepared to go anywhere,” said Sari. “I think the whole thing fell over because he was unprepared to be in a conciliatory position and he was just in a hostile mood. My opinion of the whole thing was that it was a big sham, and the lady from Conciliation who was running it was legless. She kept saying 'Well that's not really my position, I can't offer an opinion' or 'I can't really push it either way, I'm just here to oversee things'.”

“That's why I mean she's legless, she's got no power – so what the hell is she doing there?”

“My feelings are that WorkCover has been touted by the government as being wonderful and there's this idea that everybody's safe because we have this WorkCover legislation. I'm saying that there's a hole in the legislation.

“Deanne didn't get any happiness, we didn't get any happiness. Nobody seemed to win. Maybe the WorkCover Agent had some benefit from it, we don't know.

“The whole process is not set up so that anyone can receive any satisfaction from it. It's been a horrible experience – and it shouldn't have been.”

* Not her real name