Compensation claims on the way for those who can prove they caught COVID-19 at work
A State Insurance Regulatory Authority spokeswoman in New South Wales has spoken out about a predicted spike in workers’ compensation claims for those who can prove they have contracted COVID-19 through their workplace.
Her comments come in the wake of speculation that compensation claims will surge at the end of the NSW lockdown, with the industry regulator predicting a bill of up to $638 million within 12 months, based on the 80 per cent vaccination coverage of the adult population.
The estimates, the spokeswoman warned, do not include costs associated with psychological injuries not associated with COVID-19 diagnoses, or the additional claims’ management costs that will be incurred by insurers.
For both employers and building owners, concerns about the spike are high, as they face potential prosecutions or lawsuits from staff who can prove they were infected with COVID-19 at work.
Just over 1,500 claims have been lodged since the pandemic began, just over 1,000 of which have been lodged since 16 June, when the Delta outbreak began in earnest. The total payment for COVID-19 related claims was $7.1 million to July, with an expected gross cost of $13.9 million for the year.
While the bulk of the claims relate to industries and sectors outside of early childhood education and care (ECEC) a small portion have come from the broader education sector. The majority of Tier One exposure sites in Victoria at time of press are ECEC services, making the forecast for NSW compensation claims particularly timely for consideration in other states where Delta is being felt more severely.
The NSW government last year introduced legislation for essential service workers that automatically presumes they contracted COVID-19 in the workplace, with education professionals included in the essential workers space. That automatic presumption does not apply to millions of other employees expected to return to ordinary workplaces from Monday, which is the reasoning behind the anticipated spike.
Workplace lawyer Michael Tooma, a managing partner at Clyde and Co, told The Brisbane Times that it could be more difficult for those who fall outside “prescribed employment” to claim compensation for catching the virus at work, however evidence from genomic testing and contact tracing may be used to help non-essential workers prove they contracted COVID-19 at work.
A SafeWork NSW spokeswoman said a person conducting a business or other undertaking was required to manage any potential risks of COVID-19 to workers and others in the work environment.
“Businesses and workers must comply with national and state public health orders. Requirements may require addressing office layouts, utilisation and ventilation systems,” she said.
A spokesman for NSW Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello told the paper that while the cost impact of COVID-19 on the workers’ compensation scheme remained uncertain, the multi-billion dollar claims cost projected by actuaries in April 2020 has to date not materialised.
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