While we haven’t seen the huge numbers of COVID-19 cases that other areas of the world have been experiencing, there have still been hundreds of workers’ compensation claims made across Australia in relation to COVID-19.
When would COVID-19 trigger a claim for workers’ compensation?
If an employee was to contract COVID-19, the costs associated with their time off work could be claimed through workers’ compensation if:
- there is clear evidence that the disease was contracted at work (or while on a work-related trip); and
- what the worker does for work is considered a significant contributing factor to their contracting the disease.
The steps which an employer puts in place to manage COVID-19 risk may become relevant to the significant or substantial contribution test. However, COVID-19 presents a new situation, and each state may interpret the law in unique ways. Each case may be handled differently depending on the factors relevant to the claim.
What are employers’ obligations with regard to COVID-19 and workers’ compensation?
Employer obligations include ensuring physical distancing and good hygiene practices at workplaces that have remained open. Implementing this physical distancing may become more challenging especially as the cases drop and people potentially become complacent.
It’s also important to address the wellbeing of employees, both in the workplace and those who have transitioned to working-from-home. The stress and anxiety associated with COVID-19 and the impacts on work and society are potentially going to affect employees whether at home or in the workplace. Employers can provide access to mental health services (see our list below) and make sure they are regularly communicating with and appropriately checking in on their team members.
Workers’ compensation risks and working from home
Some potential risks associated with working from home include physical risks from a poor work environment, such as not having a proper workstation, or increased screen use as face to face meetings once provided a break from screens. There are also the psychosocial risks to consider such as impacts of isolation, reduced social support from work colleagues, fatigue, online harassment and family and domestic violence.
As an employer, you have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of your employees at work, and this can be challenging when the workplace is the employee’s home. Having the employee check and verify that their workstation is ergonomically sound and their home environment is safe from risk of injury is one procedure employers can follow to reduce risk of claims. Putting in place a work from home policy is also useful as it provides guidelines for employees to follow and clearly states the employer’s intent to promote health and safety at work.
What are some practical steps employers can take to reduce risks?
- Maintaining strict physical distancing in workplaces that are still operating, and embedding that practice in the culture with effective and regular communication. Be wary of complacency.
- In some industries and workplaces workers can be split into different teams and rostered on at different times, so that any outbreak could be contained and allow the business to continue operation.
- Work at home employees complete a checklist ensuring ergonomic workstation and risk-free environment.
- Provide information about mental health services and encourage employees to communicate with managers, and/or contact appropriate services about any challenges they may be experiencing.
We are helping many different workplaces manage their OHS obligations through effective policy, communication and other strategies. See our list of services to share with employees below and get in touch with us to find out how we can assist you in your workplace.
MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES IN WA
Resource to share with your employees:
You can get help by calling a helpline if you are looking for someone to talk to. They are there to listen, and to provide advice, information and referrals.
Mental Health Support Lines in WA:
Search the My Services online directory, and make it easier to navigate the system and find the right support for mental health, alcohol and other drug issues.
Visit your GP for advice and support.
Seek support online via live chat and online forums such as beyondblue online chat or Lifeline Crisis Support Chat .
In an emergency always call 000 or visit your local emergency department.