Section 3.6 Workers Compensation and Contact Dermatitis

If a skin condition is deemed to be work related, then a patient is eligible to claim workers’ compensation. This is particularly important if time off work is required for the dermatitis to settle. However, a patient can still make a workers/compensation claim even if they are not having time off work to claim expenses for medical practitioners, prescriptions and pharmacy items. If they have to change, reduce or modify their work duties, then their income may be supplemented to a proportion of what it was previously.

Workers’ compensation schemes are all state or territory-based, and there are slight variations between them. There is also a Commonwealth scheme, Comcare, for Commonwealth employees. Generally to initiate a workers’ compensation claim, a medical practitioner, the employee and employer each have to fill in a claim form. The medical practitioner is usually a consultant or general practitioner and not a registrar or nurse. This system puts the onus on the patient to claim: many do not want to go through the process for various reasons, and so many workers with skin conditions which do not require much time off work, decide not to put in a claim. The employer may also discourage this, since they generally have to pay a premium. Many workers wait until patch testing to decide whether to put in a claim. If the worker has significant dermatitis that seems to be work-related, it may be quite appropriate to instigate a workers’ compensation claim whilst waiting for patch testing. It is disappointing when patients attend practitioners who say that they ‘refuse to do Workcover’, as this puts the patients at a considerable disadvantage.

If the doctor certifies that the patient has a work-related condition, it is polite to ring the employer and explain whether the patient has some work capacity or not (provided you have the patients’ approval to do this). Sometimes there is office (dry) work available or work in the stores department away from irritants and allergens but on other occasions, they may need to be away from the workplace completely. It is often difficult for small workplaces, particularly hairdressing salons, to cope with the loss of a worker, so it is always best to communicate with the employer. This all takes time though.

The initial certificate lasts for 2 weeks, and then subsequent certificates last up to 4 weeks. Unless the doctor plans to see the patient that frequently, it may be appropriate for the patient’s general practitioner to continue to issue certificates. The insurance company may arrange for a worker to be sent to an independent medical examiner to decide whether the claim is valid. They may also ask the doctor for a medical report.

Further down the track, generally if a patient has been off work, they may be referred for an impairment assessment. This will generally determine any lump sum compensation payments and if they reach a critical threshold for impairment, they can sue the employer under common law. As mentioned, there are variations between states and territories in this process.

Videos to watch:

Talk 29 – Workers Comp

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