The coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc across Victoria. Many workers across multiple industries have become infected. In this article, we will specifically look at workers facing significant challenges in our healthcare sector and what their workers compensation options are if they test positive to COVID-19 as a result of exposure in the workplace.
As someone who has represented many healthcare workers in the past in relation to workplace injuries, I have an enduring respect and gratitude for the people who work on a daily basis caring for the sick, injured and frail in our community. Health care workers are some of the most selfless and loyal workers I have represented over the years.
Victoria is seeing increasing numbers of health care workers contracting COVID
Our healthcare workers have never been as important as they are now. In Victoria, increasing numbers of health care workers are having to self-isolate due to contracting COVID-19.
Nurses, doctors, patient care assistants, cleaners and food services workers are all working on the frontline of our battle against the coronavirus and many face an increased risk of infection.
What happens if I am a health care worker and contract COVID-19 in the course of my employment?
If you have tested positive for COVID-19 and you think you may have contracted it at work or during the course of your work, you need to:
- continue to self-isolate;
- inform your employer straight away;
- complete the necessary notification form (keeping a copy for yourself), as requested by your employer or make a diary note of when you verbally informed your employer.
If you telephone your employer, we recommend you also send an email providing notification.
Your employer must notify WorkSafe Victoria immediately if you return a positive test result
Your employer must notify WorkSafe immediately upon receiving your confirmation of a positive diagnosis. This is in addition to the usual record that must be made in the employer’s register of injuries. The new Worksafe notification guidelines can be found here.
You will be self-isolating until such time as you test negative and your treating health providers provide clearance for you to return to work. This may take weeks or months depending upon the severity of your illness. You may be unable to return to work for an extended period of time.
Can I lodge a workers compensation claim?
You may be able to lodge a WorkCover claim if you are a worker and can establish that you contracted COVID-19 at work or in the course of your employment. In a health care setting, this may be easier to establish than other workplaces.
If you are working in a hospital or clinic where you have come into contact with patients or co-workers with COVID-19, the connection between the virus and your place of work will be more likely to be established.
If however, you work in a health care setting that does not treat COVID-19 patients and there are no known positive COVID-19 reports amongst co-workers, patients or visitors, it may be more difficult to establish that the virus was contracted in your workplace or because of your employment duties.
How do I lodge a WorkCover claim if I am in isolation?
You should lodge a claim as soon as possible and within 30 days of your diagnosis. You can request your employer forward you a Workers Compensation Claim form in the mail. Alternatively, you can download a Workers Injury Claim Form from WorkSafe Victoria.
Fill in the form, sign it, scan it and email it to your employer. You can also lodge the forms directly with the authorised insurer. Ensure you keep your record of having emailed your form.
Do I have to provide a medical certificate?
As you are likely to be away from work for at least 2-3 weeks and likely longer, you should also provide your employer with a medical certificate. This is not an ordinary medical certificate. It must be a “WorkSafe Certificate of Capacity” from your doctor. You should ensure this is also scanned and provided to your employer with the Workers Injury Claim Form.
If you do not attach the WorkSafe Certificate of Capacity it will mean you cannot claim weekly payments to replace lost wages or it may delay the processing of your claim.
If you print the form, complete and sign and arrange for someone to post for you, ensure that it is sent using Registered or Express Post so you can track delivery to ensure your employer has received it. Ensure you keep a copy for your own records too.
What happens once I lodge a workers compensation claim?
Once your employer receives your completed claim form and Certificate of Capacity, they have 10 days to forward it to the authorised insurer.
The insurer will write to you and acknowledge receipt of your claim. The insurer has 28 days from receipt of the claim form to either accept or reject your claim. You will be informed in writing as to whether or not your claim is accepted.
If your claim is accepted, you must continue to lodge Certificates of Capacity every 28 days to ensure your weekly payments continue to be processed. This will mean making sure you schedule an appointment with your doctor so the form can be completed.
What happens if my claim is rejected?
You can appeal the decision of the authorised insurer to the Accident Compensation and Conciliation Service (ACCS).
You will need to lodge a Request for Conciliation form within 60 days of the insurer’s decision. During the COVID 19 pandemic the ACCS is operating remotely so please refer to their website for details as to how to lodge the form online.
We recommend you speak with a lawyer prior to lodging your Request for Conciliation so you are fully informed as to your rights and entitlements under the WorkCover system. At Menzies Legal, we can also assist you if you have any queries about completing the form correctly and what your next steps should be. You can call us for an initial free telephone consultation on 03 9069 9997.
What benefits can I receive if my WorkCover claim is accepted?
Medical and like expenses
Medical and like expenses related to your illness will be paid for by the authorised insurer upon provision of tax invoices and receipts within 6 months of the service date.
You may not receive reimbursement of all of the expenses; only what WorkCover deem reasonable. Speak with us if you feel WorkCover are not reimbursing expenses you think they should.
Weekly payments of compensation
You may also receive weekly payments of compensation.
The amount you will receive is based on your wages for the previous year. This is known as your pre injury average weekly earnings (PIAWE).
First 13 weeks
Once this is calculated, you will receive 95% of your PIAWE for the first 13 weeks of incapacity.
14 to 130 weeks
You will receive 80% of PIAWE for weeks 14 to 130.
Beyond 130 weeks
If your payments are to continue beyond 130 weeks and you meet the eligibility criteria, they will continue, subject to review, at 80% of your PIAWE.
Lump sum compensation for permanent impairment
If you have suffered a permanent impairment due to contracting COVID-19, you may also be entitled to lodge an impairment benefit claim for a lump sum payment and you may have the basis for a common law claim.
Strict time limits apply, so please consult a lawyer to ensure you protect any entitlements you may have.
If you are a health worker in Victoria and would like to speak directly with a lawyer about your situation, please contact Menzies Legal for a confidential phone or Zoom discussion.
You can contact us directly by phone or email:
P: 03 9069 9997
The information contained in this article is of general nature and should not be construed as legal advice