We’re all aware of the dangers of workers contracting the coronavirus. What then is the fallout for employers’ role across the country in keeping staff COVID-19 safe?
The most recent figures available show 533 COVID-19 related workers’ compensation claims were lodged across Australia by the end of last July. The claims were for contracting the virus, mental health impacts related to it, or to do with testing or isolation requirements. The sectors to lodge the most claims included health care and social assistance, public administration and safety, as well as transport, postal, and warehousing.
Workers’ compensation differences
Each state and territory has its own workers’ compensation scheme. Check your respective government website for the latest information. There are 11 schemes, each differing in how it defines an injury and the causal link with employment.
With the pandemic still upon us, business restrictions can be fluid. Employers can find overall guidance for their industry via Safe Work Australia. Be mindful, though, the national guidance might not be as strict as those for your home state or territory, particularly with avoiding the aerosol spread of the virus. That’s according to ABC Radio’s Dr Norman Swan, co-host of the Coronacast podcast.
Workers’ comp coverage for COVID-19
Your workers will only be compensated for contracting the disease if:
- It arose out of or in the course of their work for your business
- The worker can show a connection between that work and being diagnosed with the virus.
But workers’ compensation schemes vary when they talk about the ‘contribution of employment to injury’. They use terms such as needing to determine the workplace as a ‘main’, ‘significant’, ‘major’ or ‘substantial’ contributing factor to the diagnosis. Even South Australia has something different – ‘if it arises from employment’. Despite the variation, each workers’ comp claim is considered on its own merits, circumstances, and relevant facts.
Changes due to COVID-19
An important amendment to NSW’s Workers’ Compensation Act 1987 means the law now presumes workers caught COVID-19 in the workplace if they’re employed in:
- The retail industry (except for exclusively online retail)
- The health-care sector, disability, and aged care facilities
- The cleaning industry
- Educational institutions, libraries
- Police, emergency services, courts, tribunals, prisons, detention centres
- Restaurants, clubs, hotels, entertainment venues
- Passenger transport services
- The construction industry.
To qualify, employees must have worked there in the three weeks before their diagnosis. You must tell us of their diagnosis within 48 hours so we can contact your insurer. So, check the laws for your state or territory.
Even if your staff work from home thanks to the pandemic, workers’ compensation will generally cover them. If they make a claim, they need to show the injury occurred during the course of their work. Your staff must follow COVID-safe practices such as good hygiene, following physical distancing rules when out of their home, and keeping updated on changes.
Best practice management
With your increased responsibilities to protect your staff, consider these best practices for managing workers’ compensation claims to help reduce your costs.
Improve your injury reporting process. Examples would be a robust safety committee and clear process to identify to whom staff report injuries. If you don’t already have one, create a hazard/incident report form, and be aware your scheme may need you to file it for a particular length of time. Record minor accidents, too, or, as some safety savvy firms do, even near misses for an early warning system. As well, ensure your key information is handy because workplace safety authorities will usually need it within 24 hours or sooner if there has been a fatality.
Should an incident occur, know what to do. Your incident investigation procedures should set out how to secure the scene, collect your evidence, quiz witnesses and record the information you gather. However, for particular incidents such as fatalities, you may need to preserve the scene until an inspector arrives or you’re otherwise directed.
To help your injured worker get back on the job, make sure your return to work policy is up to date. It should cover the purpose, scope, who’s eligible for coverage (will it cover staff on other types of leave, for example?), transitional work (including your and the worker’s obligations to create, accept or refuse modified work tasks or alternative roles), and procedures.
These are great ways to reduce your risk profile. Check in with us to ensure your systems and risk management approaches are top-notch.