The workers compensation legislation in Western Australia provides cover for an almost endless variety of workplace injuries, and diseases during your employment. This includes contracting coronavirus at work, or whilst attending required appointments for the purpose of your workers compensation claim.
In recent months, Western Australia, like much of the rest of the world, became infected with Coronavirus. At the time of this article, workers Compensation claims arising from this kind of disease is relatively low. However, the impact on workers and the families can be devasting. In this article we have discussed some of the ways that Coronavirus may intersect with the workers compensation system.
Contacting COVID 19 Disease in the Course of Employment
The definition of the term ‘injury’ contained in Section 5 of the Workers Compensation and Injury Management Act 1981 includes a disease. The specific wording is that:
- “injury means —… a disease contracted by a worker in the course of his employment at or away from his place of employment and to which the employment was a contributing factor and contributed to a significant degree”.
The term ‘disease’ is defined as follows:
- “disease includes any physical or mental ailment, disorder, defect, or morbid condition whether of sudden or gradual development”.
A person claiming Compensation for Coronavirus must therefore show that their employment was a contributing factor to the contraction of the Coronavirus and contributed to the contraction of the Coronavirus to a significant degree.
Consider the following example:
James it employed as a guard in a prison. Whilst working at the prison James is required to accompany a prisoner to a meeting with a doctor. The prisoner coughs several times in close proximity to James. The prisoner sees the doctor and two days later is diagnosed with Coronavirus. James develops cold like symptoms and a fever. James is diagnosed with Coronavirus. James does not know and has not met anyone else who has been diagnosed with Coronavirus.
In this case James would probably be able to show that on the balance of probabilities he contracted Coronavirus in the course of his employment and would be entitled to workers compensation.
Contracting COVID 19 During Medical Attendance or Vocational Rehabilitation
In Section 19 of the Workers Compensation and Injury Management Act 1981 a worker shall be treated as having suffered personal injury by accident arising out of or in the course of the worker’s employment if the injury occurs during the attendance at a place for treatment or attendance of a kind referred to in clause 17 of Schedule 1. Clause 17 of Schedule 1 refers to several kinds of medical treatment and vocational rehabilitation.
Consider the following example:
Martha suffers a back injury in the course of her employment. She attempts conservative treatment for a year but her condition does not improve. Her neurosurgeon refers her for an MRI scan following which the neurosurgeon recommends a fusion operation. The fusion operation is deemed to be an urgent procedure and goes ahead. A week later the surgery went well but Martha is experiencing headaches, fever and a sore throat. Martha then receives a telephone call from her treating surgeon who says that some of the staff at the hospital, including the anaesthetist who conducted her procedure, have been diagnosed with Coronavirus. Martha decides to undergo testing and is diagnosed with Coronavirus. Martha does not know anyone else with Coronavirus.
In this case Martha would probably be able to show that on the balance of probabilities she contracted Coronavirus whilst at the hospital or whilst receiving medical treatment and would be entitled to workers compensation.
Developing a Psychological Condition due to the Work Disruptions Caused by Coronavirus
In response to COVID 19, many workers are required or encouraged to work differently.
Consider the following example:
Julie works in helpdesk support and is encouraged to work from home to reduce unnecessary contact. She was sent home with mobile phone provided by work but unable to forward calls or putting the call on hold while checking with his colleagues. As more and more people are working from home, the mobile network gets congested and it gets very difficult to manage incoming calls and provide effective support to her client. In a normal circumstance when she works in the office with a proper setup, she usually escalates issues to her supervisor by transferring the call, or seeking assistance from other colleagues while putting the client on hold, but she is unable to do it without a proper phone system. Her clients get more and more inpatient with her and increasingly vocal about their frustration. Julie is stressed out and unable to work due to stress condition.
In this case, Julie would probably be able to show that on the balance of probabilities that her stress is caused by her employment because her employer failed to provide proper equipment to enable her to fulfill the requirement of her role.
How to Claim Workers Compensation if you have Contacted Coronavirus?
If you have contacted Coronavirus or suffered from a mental condition due to coronavirus, and if you can prove that your employment is a significant contributing factor to the disease or mental condition, you maybe entitled to workers compensation.
The claim process for COVID-19 or related disease is similar to other types of workers compensation claim.
Key Challenge in COVID 19 Related Compensation Claims
COVID-19 is new disease and questions may arise as to the exact time and place of contracting the virus, and to what extent is your condition is caused by your employment could be difficult to determine. Therefore, it is advisable to enlist the help of a specialist workers compensation lawyer to assist with your workers compensation claim.
Foyle Legal Can Help During Coronavirus Pandemic
Foyle Legal continues to operate despite the Coronavirus pandemic. If you believe you have suffered Coronavirus during your employment, then we can discuss this with you in a telephone appointment or video conference.
During this uncertain time, we are monitoring advice from health authorities across Western Australia (and other parts of Australia) and will continue to make changes to our plans accordingly as new information arises to ensure we continue to support our clients during this period.
The information provided in the article is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice that is specific to your situation.