If you catch COVID-19 at work, is it a workplace injury? Unions and lawyers say yes

If you catch COVID-19 at work, is it a workplace injury? Unions and lawyers say yes

by Freya Lucas

August 31, 2020

Mounting pressure from unions and lawyers on behalf of those working in frontline industries and sectors in Victoria could see the contraction of COVID-19 as declared as a workplace injury, The Age has reported over the weekend. 

 

Victoria’s Workplace Safety Minister Jill Hennessy is being called to include coronavirus under the definition of workplace injury for ECEC employees, along with those working in schools, abattoirs, security guards at quarantine hotels and staff at public housing towers under quarantine.

 

Most claims would involve “relatively small” amounts of compensation to cover those who had missed work for short periods, or who had to reduce hours due to persistent symptoms.

 

At present, if a worker were to contract COVID-19 in their workplace in Victoria, they would not be automatically given compensation for death, serious injury, or time away from work. Legal avenues for pursuing compensation are challenging, given then need to precisely show where infections were acquired, even in high risk settings.  

 

There is some precedent for changing legislation to better protect those who are on the frontline, with New South Wales and Western Australia both passing legislation for those working in healthcare, changing the laws to set a presumption that anyone working in healthcare who contracts COVID-19 had been infected at work. 

 

Worksafe Victoria has issued the following information in relation to workplace acquired COVID-19; 

 

You may be entitled to workers compensation if you contract COVID-19 at work.

 

As the virus can be contracted through community contact as well as workplace exposure, for the illness to be considered work-related, there needs to be a clear link between a worker’s employment and contracting the virus.

 

Where a worker’s employment puts them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, it might be more likely that the illness is work-related. Examples include where employment involves:

 

  • travel to an area with a known viral outbreak
  • activities that include interaction with people who have contracted the virus.

 

To access the original coverage of this piece, as written by David Estcourt for The Age, please see here. For information on workplace acquired COVID-19 in Victoria, please see here

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