How Does Perceived Fairness in the Workers’ Compensation Claims Process Affect Mental Health Following a Workplace Injury?

  • Christa Orchard
  • Nancy Carnide
  • Peter SmithEmail author


Purpose Mental health concerns are common after a workplace injury, particularly amongst those making a compensation claim. Yet there is a lack of research exploring the effect of modifiable elements of the return-to-work process on mental health. The aim of this study is to examine the impact of perceived injustice in the interactions between claim agents and claimants on mental health symptoms in the 12-month following a musculoskeletal (MSK) workplace injury. Methods A cohort of 585 workers compensation claimants in Victoria, Australia were interviewed three times over a 12-month period following a workplace MSK injury. Perceptions of informational and interpersonal justice in claim agent interactions were measured at baseline, and the Kessler Psychological Distress (K6) scale was administered as a measure of mental health at all three timepoints. Path analyses were performed to examine the direct and indirect effects of perceived justice at baseline on concurrent and future mental health, after accounting for confounding variables. Results Each 1-unit increase in perceptions of informational and interpersonal justice, indicating poorer experiences, was associated with an absolute increase of 0.16 and 0.18 in respective K6 mental health score at baseline, indicating poorer mental health on a 5-point scale. In addition, perceived justice indirectly impacted mental health at 6-month and 12-month, through sustained negative impact from baseline as well as increased risk of disagreements between the claim agent and claimant. Conclusions This finding has highlighted the importance of perceived justice in claim agent interactions with claimants in relation to mental health following a work-related MSK injury.


Occupational injuries Workers’ compensation claim Mental health Perceived injustice 



This study was supported through a Linkage Grant through the Australian Research Council (Grant # LP130100091). Peter Smith was supported by a Discovery Early Career Research Award, and is currently supported through a Research Chair in Gender, Work and Health from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This study was approved by the Monash University Human Research Ethics Committee.

Informed Consent

Written informed consent was obtained from all patients included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Work & HealthTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Dalla Lana School of Public HealthUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Department of Epidemiology and Preventive MedicineMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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