Earlier this year, the Workers Compensation Act 1987 (the Act) was amended to include a new section which creates a presumption that a worker in ‘prescribed employment’ who contracts COVID-19 did so in the course of that employment. This means that if you work in any of the industries outlined under the Act and you contract COVID-19, it will be presumed for the purposes of the Act that it was contracted at work, and that your employment was the main contributing factor, or a substantial contributing factor, to your illness. You can read more about these new laws including which workers are covered here.
Under s 19B(5) of the Act, workers in ‘prescribed employment’ who contract COVID-19 will also be presumed incapable of working from their date of injury to one week after they are cleared as not longer having COVID-19. This means that workers in the prescribed industries who contract COVID-19 may be entitled to compensation without needing a certificate of capacity as is normally the case, reducing the burden on injured or sick workers. These changes are especially meaningful for the increasing number of casual employees in the Australian workforce who don’t have sick or annual leave entitlements, and who are included under these new changes so long as they have performed casual work on at least one day in the three weeks prior to their date of injury. If you are a casual employee who cannot work because you have contracted COVID-19, you may be entitled to worker’s compensation benefits to cover a large portion of your wages while you cannot work. This is especially the case if you work as an employee as prescribed under the Act.
As of 21 July 2020, there are approximately 3600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in NSW. Data from the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) website confirms that, as of 21 July 2020, 274 claims and notifications had been made for workers compensation related to COVID-19 in NSW. These numbers had been steadily increasing since late February until they began to flatten out around mid-May. These numbers seem to indicate that there are many potential workers compensation cases not being claimed for, especially given the new measures reducing the evidential burden for workers in many industries. In these difficult times, and with a new wave of COVID-19 infections likely on the horizon, it is important to know your entitlements, and the ways that you can minimise the financial burden of illness.
If you believe you have contracted COVID-19 at work, please call or book an appointment online with Amanda Robinson at The Law Office of Conrad Curry to discuss your rights and entitlements free of charge.