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Workers’ compensation for contracting COVID-19 at work

With rising COVID-19 case numbers, the Advocacy Team has been approached by members to clarify what they may be liable for should an employee contract the virus at work.

For all workers’ compensation schemes, there is nothing to preclude an employee, including on-hire staff, from making a claim for contracting COVID-19 at work. To make such a claim, a worker will need provide information that establishes the link between their work and contracting the virus.

Claims are assessed on their individual merits, considering individual circumstances and evidence.

Previously, with low community transmission the balance of probability with genomic sequencing was used to determine whether a claim was work-related and therefore valid. However, now the virus has become more prevalent within communities, even WorkSafe agencies have acknowledged that it will be difficult to identify where a person was exposed to the virus and whether it occurred out of or in the course of their employment, similarto the common cold and flu.

For some schemes, such as New South Wales (NSW), legislative changes have been made that mean for certain workers it is presumed they have contracted the virus at work or while working. The healthcare sector is included in this.

This presumption also applies to casual workers if they have worked on one or more of the 21 days before their date of injury. However, the presumption will not apply if there is evidence that proves a worker in the above areas of employment contracted the COVID-19 virus outside of work. As such when lodging a claim, employers and workers are still required to provide information on the link between work and contracting the virus.

In other states, like the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), administrative changes were made to speed up the claims processes.

However, the increased transmissibility of the new strain has raised questions as to the sustainability of such claims. RCSA has raised this matter with the Workplace Health and Safety Team at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and will stay close with WorkSafe authorities in relation to developments in this space. We will keep members informed about how intensified community transmission may further impact claims processes.

Beyond workers’ compensation, employees who contract COVID-19 at work and are not entitled to sick leave may be eligible for the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment. This payment is available in every state and territory and is designed to supplement the income of workers required to self-isolate or quarantine because of COVID-19.

Additionally, the Australian Government have developed the COVID-19 Vaccine Claims Scheme, a program to reimburse people who suffer a moderate to significant impact following an adverse reaction to an approved COVID-19 vaccine. The scheme covers the costs of certain adverse effects that total $1,000 and above. Claims can be submitted now via Services Australia.

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