April 2, 2014 update:

(after my WorkSafe Agent reply)

I’ll get my cheese @WorkSafe_Vic…


Have you had that moment? Do you remember promising yourself you’d always try your best in life and remain as honest as you can? But then down the track something happens and you find yourself asking, ‘why did I have to do rock the boat?’

Often I wonder how much easier life might be if I didn’t try so hard, if I gave in a little and didn’t aspire for the best I could possibly be. This positive attitude has occasionally got me into nothing but trouble. Sure, I have a clear conscious, but I’ve had to endure more stress, financial loss, and much more pain. No guesses, I’m talking about the Victorian WorkCover system again.

After my initial battle in 2009 with my WorkSafe Agent where I was first assessed by a Medical Panel, I was found to have no working capacity indefinitely, which meant three quarters of my pre-injury weekly wage was certified until the end, of what was projected to be, my working life. But, with diagnosis and great treatment (none of which has stemmed from the WorkCover system), I have improved. After acquiring a regular monthly design job that covers the wages of our full-time designer presented itself and being desperate to revisit our old life of working together, Theo (my husband) and I considered re-establishing our design studio, Origin of Image. We wanted to celebrate our life together, I wished for some resemblance to the ‘working human being’ I was, I craved the challenge of a client brief and most of all I desperately wanted to remove myself from being part of a poisonous system, at least when seen from the viewpoint of an injured worker.

I proceeded in a most unrealistic way to convince myself that I had a working capacity. I got excited at being able again to think for more than 10 minutes, I got excited at not having to sleep throughout every day in order to function, I got excited when finding that I could conceptualise again.

Was I daft?

I declared a work capacity of 9 hours per week that was made up of scattered snippets of working time. I thought this was good for me and fair to the system, as did my family medical practitioner. That breakthrough was at the end of 2012. By January 2013 my weekly payments ceased completely. WorkCover legislation does NOT support any worker whose hours of employment don’t meet a weekly minimum of 15 hours (and there are some other terms of what monetary total you can earn, and feel free to bore yourself reading these laws here). If you feel you may be able to work and want to even try some work, or if you’ve thought volunteering may be a great way to test your ability, neither is an acceptable option according to this system. If you happen to be investigated during your work trial, you will be labelled as fraudulent. So you’re going to have to be pretty certain before making the decision to return to work, and you also have to be confident you will be able to maintain this working capacity for the rest of your working days.

Was I sure I’d be able to work 15 hours every week for the rest of my life?

Well I knew I didn’t want to be labelled a ‘fraud’ for attempting to return to work. I felt I had no choice but to forfeit my payments in favour of working 9 hours a week. I was given no financial support. Pathetic? Absolutely.

I carried on like this for almost 8 months, sacrificing all compensation payments to make sure I could sustain a capacity for work. In that time, I also realised I could meet the 15 hour statutory minimum – how I love the convenience of working from home and having Theo here to help all day! Realistically, any work for me, would not be an option were it not for these two crucial factors.

I remained on 9 hours a week (without compensation) until June 24, 2013, whilst making certain I could maintain my work ability. Theo and I have found a way to work within my limitations. I have now reached the minimum 15 hour per week capacity that allows for a “top up” payment of compensation. This couldn’t be better news to Theo and I, in fact we thought an organisation that our Government created, one that claims to support injured workers and is meant to focus on return to work, would also be thrilled. You guessed it, I was left to feel they would have preferred that I was hit by a bus and off their books.

I submitted my 15 hour weekly capacity report to my WorkSafe Agent (WorkSafe contracts with them to administer the Workers’ Compensation Act) on June 26th, 2013. I was greeted by yet another new case manager (who has been changed at least three times since then) and their reference to ‘my employer’ in the initial communication. For some reason the agent finds it impossible to understand the concept of self employment, but clearly this reflects the system setup. The response to my updated work capacity was as follows:

You will be required to send in your tax certificate. As the application form states, it is mandatory for you to supply the following information with you application – Proof of current hours worker and income – Written opinion from your current treating medical practitioner about the following: -The relationship between your work-related injury and your current work capacity -Whether you are working to the limit of your current  work capacity -Whether your current work capacity is likely to continue indefinitely or if there is potential for your current work capacity to increase – Certificates of capacity (if not always provided) And – Tax returns (at a minimum, the tax return from the previous financial year if 130 weeks expired in or after that financial year, otherwise all tax returns since 130 weeks expired).

I hope this helps.

Extremely positive communication… and as helpful as another flare up of my pain! I understand that the system requires paperwork but I knew the direction where this communication was heading, as I’ve had over 6 years experience with this poor excuse for ‘quality income protection’. I was anticipating months and months of nothing short of more WorkCover HELL. But I faced it head on!

The process (whilst unpaid) 2013 -2014

  • It took over a month for the WorkSafe Agent to clarify what specific application process was needed and that I had to provide all the information requested. There seemed to be no understanding of what my 15 hr capacity signified
  • A new application process meant I had to provide payslips and tax returns, which I did, but these got lost. We faxed/posted/emailed them… again
  • Then there was more information requested, we sent this in (it took a month to hear about a minor detail my family doctor was required to provide)
  • It was confirmed I had to be assessed once again by the Medical Panel and undergo a Vocational Assessment
  • The date was confirmed for December 2013 to present myself to the Medical Panel
  • Preparation for the Medical Panels – again endless documentation not to mention stress of presenting to the practitioners of the Panels knowing very well they do not have the system procedures to assess Pudendal Neuralgia as a measurable “impairment”
  • Presenting myself to the Medical Panels (horrific)
  • Waiting for additional information the WorkSafe agent had not provided to the Panels so they could make their decision (this took about a month!)
  • No communication for weeks on end
  • Waiting for the Medical Panels Opinion, (arrived Jan 21, 2014)
  • No communication for weeks
  • I was told the Agent for WorkSafe had 60 days to respond to the findings of the Panel (but I am not sure this is true as my request for them to provide the source of this detail in the legislation has been ignored 5 times),
  • WorkSafe Agent eventually responds after 50+ days (March 11, 2014)
  • Another request for pay slips is again made as well as a declaration of my working hours and wages
  • This form was sent/faxed/emailed, signed by me on Monday (March 17, 2014)

And, no it won’t end here because now the WorkSafe Agent ‘Technical Manager’ is trying to tell me I’m not entitled to the months (June 18th – Sep 25th) it took for my Tax Returns to be completed and officially signed (the stamp from the Accountant is the magic date apparently). To clarify:

The date 25 September 2013 is the date that your entitlement to Section 93CD payments would commence pursuant to Section 93CD(5). The entitlement under this section commences from the date that the Agent receives a valid application. While your Application form was signed on the 18th of June 2013, you had not supplied the 2013 tax returns until a later date (25 September 2013 is the date of the date stamp on the tax return). Part four of the application form lists mandatory requirements for a valid application and the 2013 tax records were the last piece of information required to meet that requirement.
This is written on the application form itself on part 4. We cannot ‘receive’ an application before it is valid and if there was a delay in your accountant providing one of the mandatory components then this is outside of (WorkSafe Agent’s name) control.

If you do not agree with a decision that has been made on your claim of course you have appeal rights and this could be taken to Conciliation which is your rights but hopefully this gives you an idea of where that date came from and why.

You bet I’ll be looking into conciliation over this decision. One thing that this system has taught me is to be tough, to not believe anything a WorkSafe Agent tells me, and that many of the staff employed are incompetent, and yes, they do come out with some severe irrational statements. One such example (other than the one I just provided): my case had been allocated a set amount of funds for medical reimbursements and that my limit had been reached. Putrid, I know…

So where am I now?

I declared I had a work capacity in 2013 after having been “written off” for life by a Medical Panel (a Federal Court decision) in 2009. In what should have been a most positive experience I have not received one cent from my WorkSafe Agent since January 2013 when I first declared that I was attempting 9 hours a week.

It’s so difficult for me to continue to work. I’m completely reliant on Theo but my moral ethics will not let me rest, never-failing to notify me daily that I am able to contribute to our business and in so doing and remaining honest, this will bring about a positive outcome for us.

I’ve had no one within the system to guide me or to offer help during this long drawn out and humiliating process. The system’s main driver seems to me to be for the WorkSafe Agent to ensure that any progress made is as difficult and stressful for injured workers, so that they give up their entitlement to rightful compensation or, worse still, to make them so fearful that they never attempt to work again.

I have never, in the whole 7 years of being exposed to this system, felt I could trust anyone, felt supported, given hope, or treated with respect. I have not received any kind of care but rather I’m left to feel and to be treated as guilty of my crime – sustaining a workplace accident.

I won’t accept such callous treatment, I won’t accept this grotesque form of income protection that WorkSafe calls ‘quality income protection’, and it’s lucky for me that I have help to battle and savings to live off (which are rapidly diminishing mind you). Not being intimidated, fearful, or swallowed up by this system and its primitive ways is the reason I searched for and found my diagnosis and got myself back to work! It’s the reason why another Medical Panel, for the first time, has acknowledged someone with Pudendal Neuralgia (even though they can’t verify it!!), and it’s the reason why I’ll eventually get my entitlements too!

Above all, I won’t allow this system to alter my ethics. I am not an idiot, I was not daft, I will not live to regret my decision. I’ll even top that, by continuing to expose this system and to use my voice to help other chronic pain affected injured workers in the process.