Workers at risk of contracting COVID-19
The nature of particular occupations, places or processes involved with a worker’s employment can cause or contribute to the development of an illness or disease or in the recurrence, aggravation or acceleration of a pre-existing injury or disease.
Currently, there many categories of workers who have been or will be at risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the nature of their employment. This list of ‘at risk’ workers includes those working the ‘front line’ in the medical, travel and tourism industries as well as those working in ancillary and support roles and in essential services. On 1 April 2020 Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Brett Sutton, revealed that as of that date approximately 10% of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Victoria were healthcare workers.
Consequences of contracting COVID-19
A worker who contracts the COVID-19 virus may suffer serious complications including acute respiratory distress syndrome, pulmonary fibrosis, other ongoing respiratory problems such as shortness of breath, infections, impaired liver function, heart failure, stroke, venous embolisms, depression, fatigue and cognitive deficits such as memory loss and reduced concentration. These all may have lasting effects and, in the most extreme cases, may also result in death.
The symptoms and/or treatment for COVID-19 may also result in the recurrence, aggravation, acceleration, exacerbation or deterioration of a pre‑existing injury or disease. According to the Federal Government Department of Health website, persons who are most vulnerable are those with weakened immune systems and diagnosed chronic medical conditions (e.g. high blood pressure, heart and lung conditions, kidney disease and diabetes).
Accordingly, a worker who contracts the COVID-19 virus may require ongoing medical care and/or have a reduced capacity for work and in some severe cases may never be able to return to work again.
Can a worker who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 claim WorkCover compensation?
A worker who contracts the COVID-19 virus may be entitled to WorkCover benefits if either:
• They have contracted the disease due to the nature of their employment (including past employments) and the nature of their employment (whether current or a past employment) significantly increased the risk of contracting the disease than had the worker not been employed in employment of that nature; or
• They have suffered a recurrence, aggravation, acceleration, exacerbation or deterioration of a pre‑existing injury or disease and their employment was a significant contributing factor to that recurrence, aggravation, acceleration, exacerbation or deterioration of their pre‑existing injury or disease; or
• They have suffered a heart attack or stroke that arose in the course of, or that was caused by, a disease, and their employment was a significant contributing factor to the injury or to the disease
A worker who has contracted COVID-19 may lodge a WorkCover claim irrespective of whether they actually contracted COVID-19 during their employment, so long as the nature of their employment significantly increased their risk of contracting COVID-19. For example, those who may be considered at a significant risk of contracting COVID-19 include:
• Those working in a role that requires them to interact with people who have been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, such as front-line healthcare providers; or
• Those working in a place where there are or have been confirmed persons with COVID-19, such as at hospitals, medical clinics, nursing homes, hotels, and certain transport vehicles (e.g. planes, ships, buses, ambulances).
What WorkCover entitlements may the worker be eligible for?
• Medical and like expenses;
• Loss of income (if they are incapacitated for pre-injury and/or suitable employment); and
• In some circumstances, damages (compensation) for pain and suffering and loss of earnings.
Can the family of a deceased worker who has contracted COVID-19 claim WorkCover compensation?
If the nature of the worker’s employment significantly increased their risk of contracting COVID-19, and their death resulted from or was materially contributed to by COVID-19, the worker’s family and/or dependents may be entitled to specific compensation.
The following compensation may be available:
• Reasonable medical and like services;
• Burial or cremation costs;
• Family counselling;
• Reasonable travel or accommodation expenses incurred by family members may be covered where:
o Death results from the injury;
o A burial service or cremation service is held in respect of the worker;
o The service is held at least 100KM from the normal residence of the worker’s family members; and
o The travelling or accommodation expenses are incurred within Australia.
• Lump sum dependency payment;
• Weekly pension for dependent partners, children and orphans; and
• Reimbursement of expenses for non-dependent family members.
Does the Worker have to prove that it was their employer’s fault that they contracted COVID-19?
We understand that there is concern by front-line workers, and the general public, about the lack of adequate steps being taken in some cases to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. However, to be entitled to WorkCover statutory benefits such as weekly payments and medical and like expenses, a worker does not have to prove it was due to the employer’s negligence that they contracted COVID-19.
What other entitlements may someone who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 be entitled to?
Regardless of whether an individual diagnosed with COVID-19 is eligible for WorkCover compensation, they may be entitled to pursue other entitlements such as:
• Total and permanent disablement or permanent incapacity within your Superannuation Scheme;
• Income protection;
• Critical illness insurance or trauma cover; and
These schemes are dependent on the individual’s unique policy, and they all hold various and specific requirements that need to be satisfied.
At Zaparas Lawyers, we have a dedicated Superannuation department who will be able to assist in exploring all your potential rights and entitlements.
How can we assist you?
We have a team of experts on occupational diseases, including respiratory conditions, who have seen how traumatic the effects an occupational disease or condition can be on not just the person affected but their family and friends.
If you are a worker and have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or a family member or dependent of a worker whose death resulted from or was materially contributed to by COVID-19, please contact one of our expert occupational disease WorkCover lawyers who can advise you of your rights and assist you in navigating the WorkCover system.
Contact us today for an obligation free telephone appointment and trust our family to take care of you.