It is inevitable that the coronavirus will have an impact on the working conditions of most, if not all, Australians.
Many workers have been asked to work from home, whilst others are on rotating shifts in different teams, whilst others don't have any option but to work in their usual workplace, particularly in the transport industry.
Working from home
Working from home, if possible, appears to be a sensible way in which you can protect yourself from against contracting the virus and for most employers, best practice guidelines call for this option to be strongly considered.
If you have been asked to work from home, then that portion of your home, i.e. the home office, can be classified as your workplace. In some instances, the home itself can be classified as a workplace. For example, although you may work in a particular part of a factory, there are many other parts of the factory that you may utilise during the course of your working day, such as the kitchen, bathroom, car park, et cetera and if you were injured in those areas then your claim for workers compensation benefits may be successful. This may also apply to your home.
The fact that you may suffer an injury at home does not necessarily mean that the injury falls within the ambit of WorkCover legislation.
Generally, you need to be performing something incidental to your work duties for the claim to be compensable. This can include making a drink for yourself (probably not alcoholic!) or making lunch, which are activities which you would commonly do if you were working in an office or factory.
Accordingly, if you do suffer an injury whilst working from home, performing an activity which is incidental to your work duties then you should make enquiries as to whether or not the claim is compensable.
We also believe that it is incumbent upon employers to ensure that home workplaces are safe places to work. At the very least, the workplace should be inspected (possibly by way of photograph or video) to ensure that you have sufficient equipment to perform your duties and generally that the workplace is free of hazards (ie properly set up computers and monitors that are mounted in such a way that they should not fall). Consideration should also be given to the ergonomic set up of your workplace, i.e. are monitors at a level which is comfortable and do not place undue strain/pressure on your neck and back.
An additional factor to consider is that if you are working from home for a prolonged period, that you should seek advice from an appropriately qualified accountant/tax agent on claiming the costs of working from home in your tax return.
Interaction with Others
If your employment requires you to come into contact with other workers, clients or customers, then you may be at risk of contracting coronavirus.
In our view, coronavirus is most likely a “disease” as defined by the workers compensation legislation.
For a successful workers compensation claim, the disease must be contracted in the course of employment.
We can envisage that there may be a significant contest made by the insurer in many claims, as to where the disease was contracted, particularly if it is prevalent in the society. However, in our view, if you have had direct exposure with a co-worker, client or customer and a doctor is willing to certify that the exposure on that occasion, on the balance of probabilities, caused the contraction of coronavirus, then the claim can be successful. Obviously, each case will turn upon its own facts.
It is very important that you are aware of this potential entitlement, particularly if you are required to self-isolate and are unable earn an income for that period, or generally if you are unable to work for a prolonged period because of the disease.
In worst-case scenarios of a worker passing away as a result of contracting coronavirus, then the worker's family may be entitled to a death benefit which is currently more than $800,000.
In some circumstances, in addition to claiming workers compensation benefits, an employer can be found to have breached its duty of care to you, if they have not taken sufficient steps to safeguard you from contracting coronavirus. Particularly at this time, when so much is known of the potential fatal effects of the virus and how easily it can be transmitted, employees do have a duty to ensure that they take all reasonable steps to protect you and if this is not the case, then an additional claim can potentially be made for common law damages.
In conclusion, we hope that you and your family are able to navigate this difficult period safely and if you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at any time.
Our telephone number is (02) 8115 9820.
25 March 2020