Case Study: Watch Out – You Must Engage a Professional for Workplace Psychological Issues

Active OHS received a referral for a person called George from Jenny the HR Manager of a NSW Government Department.  George was apparently struggling with depression that meant he was taking time off work, his work performance had deteriorated and this was starting to become an issue.

Potential For Workers’ Comp Claim

The referral was not for a workers’ compensation matter – at that time.  However George was certainly vulnerable and likely more sensitive to what was going on around him.  These factors would influence how George might view the workplace and could lead to a claim.  This meant it was critical George’s employer closely managed the situation to ensure George felt supported.

Unplanned Absence Entitlements

Extended time away from work is a burden on any employer.  It can also mean the other workers have to carry a heavier work load creating additional problems.

Fair Work says a worker is protected from dismissal during a temporary absence from work if the total time away due to illness or injury is less than 3 consecutive months, or a total of less than 3 months over a 12 month period.

Consequently taking steps to manage the issues behind unplanned absences by engaging professional workplace rehabilitation services makes good business sense.

Collaborative & Productive Workplace Meetings

By the time HR was involved George’s several attempts to return to work had been failures and his time off work was mounting.  Jenny suspected that basically his managers were ill equipped to deal with his current mental health needs that is not uncommon in many workplaces.   Rarely is such formal training provided to Managers and Supervisors.

On 1st September Active OHS’ Rehabilitation Consultant met with George at his workplace and a week later met with George and his Manager Rosie.  Thereafter with George’s permission Active OHS’ Rehabilitation Consultant contacted George’s Doctor to discuss his diagnosis, prognosis, current work status and any limitations that should be incorporated into his return to work program.

Formal Suitable Duties Program

A formal suitable duties program was developed based on the collaboration and feedback from all parties. The goal was for full work capacity and agreed to by all the parties.  Importantly the program was very specific about George’s duties, expectations and timing.

George Was Still Struggling

By 21st September George was back at work and on 5th October his progress was reviewed in a meeting involving Rosie his Manager, Jenny the HR Manager, Active OHS’ Rehabilitation Consultant and George.  It was agreed George’s functioning had improved though Rosie  advised George was slipping behind in one project and expressed her  concern about his ability to achieve the goal of full work capacity in  the time frame set out in the RTW Program.

Presented As Withdrawn And Closed

George was encouraged to speak up about any difficulties at work that might impact his progress and he agreed with this. However Active OHS’ Rehabilitation Consultant observed his affect and responses were a concern and that George continued to present as withdrawn and closed in his reactions and affect.

After the meeting Active OHS’ Rehabilitation Consultant’s impression of the meeting and opinion about George’s mood was communicated to Jenny.  It was agreed by all George would be reviewed by a Psychiatrist and there would be a discussion with the Union in relation to the performance matters.

Action Planning

Action Planning was important to establish the goals and strategies to assist George to recover at work.

Over the next few months there were further workplace meetings involving all parties where George’s advances along with any concerns were discussed.   After each meeting A Suitable Duties program was developed and signed off by all parties. This ensured the goals and steps to achieve those goals were clear.

On 11th January Active OHS’ Rehabilitation Consultant contacted George and his advice was he was improving that was confirmed by Rosie.   As a result it was decided by all parties to finalise his case.

Workplace Rehabilitation Specialist

The involvement of a workplace rehabilitation specialist had provided George and Rosie with the expertise and support that was lacking when managing a complex psychological and workplace issue.  As well Active OHS’ Rehabilitation Consultant’s liaison with George’s Doctor incorporated the necessary medical guidance.  Active OHS’ Rehabilitation Consultant was also an independent party who could tease out the issues and facilitate solutions.

Spending Money to Save Money

Jenny the HR Manager engaging a workplace rehabilitation specialist from Active OHS’s team meant George’s role at work was sustained, Rosie had a better functioning team member and other workers saw how the company supported George.

The cost of engaging this expertise was a fraction of a potential protracted, disruptive and negative psychological injury claim.

Experience the Difference

Your business demands more and your people deserve the best.  Contact Active OHS NOW to discuss how we can assist you to manage complex issues in your workplace.

Click HERE to experience the difference.

About the author

Kerry Foster

Kerry Foster graduated with a B. Social Work in 1980 and since 1995 has been the Director of Active OHS a WorkCover and Comcare Accredited Workplace Rehabilitation Provider.  Active OHS is an Occupational Rehabilitation Centre in Sydney NSW that also offers Work Health & Safety Training and Consulting, Ergonomic and Medico-legal Assessments as well as Outsourced Return To Work Co-ordinators.