For many Victorian workers, there is heightened anxiety about returning to the workplace after weeks (or months) of working from home. We previously wrote about “WorkCover claims when working from home” but now some workers may be considering what happens if you contract coronavirus from work.
Can I make a workers’ compensation claim if I contract coronavirus?
If you contract coronavirus at work, you may be entitled to WorkCover compensation, which can include compensation for lost wages, medical and like expenses and lump sum compensation.
The key difficulties with making a claim for contracted coronavirus will be:
- establishing that you contracted the virus out of or in the course of your employment; and
- establishing that the nature of your employment put you at a significantly greater risk of contracting the disease than if you had not been in that employment.
Establishing that you contracted COVID-19 in the course of employment
To establish that you contracted the virus out of or in the course of your employment, you need to demonstrate that you came into contact with the virus at work or whilst performing an activity incidental to your employment.
For example, if a co-worker that you work closely with has tested positive to the virus and you can demonstrate that you had not come into close contact with anyone else who had the virus, you would likely demonstrate that you contracted the virus out of or in the course of your employment.
However, if you had visited several people and spent time in public places and there were no confirmed cases of the virus at your workplace, it would be more difficult for you to establish where you contracted the virus.
Establishing that the nature of your employment put you at greater risk
Establishing that the nature of your employment put you at a significantly greater risk of contracting the disease means that you need to demonstrate there was something about your workplace or the work that you perform which means you are more likely to contract the virus than other workers.
For example, if you need to travel internationally for work and were required to travel to a country with high rates of community transmission of the virus, you could be considered to be at greater risk.
Likewise, if you are a worker who is required to come into contact with people who have the virus, such as healthcare workers, or if your workplace is a designated quarantine area (for example, some of the hotels being used for international travellers to participate in mandatory quarantine), you would probably demonstrate that the nature of your employment put you at a significantly greater risk of contracting the virus.
Can I bring a common law claim against my employer if I contract coronavirus?
To be able to bring a claim for common law damages (lump sum compensation that can include damages for pain and suffering and lost earnings) in Victoria, you need to demonstrate two things.
- That you have sustained a “serious injury”. Serious injury is a legal term that means you have sustained serious, permanent consequences because of your illness or injury. If you recover completely from the virus, you will not meet the definition of serious injury.
- That your employer or another party was negligent. This means that the person or company that you are bringing your claim against owed you a duty of care to keep you safe and breached this duty which caused you to contract the virus. For example, if you work in hospitality and your employer ignores the social distancing rules by allowing more people than is allowed in the space, or your employer fails to implement and enforce appropriate hygiene practices, then you may be able to establish that your employer has breached its duty of care to you.
If you can’t meet both the criteria to bring a claim for common law damages, you may still be entitled to compensation for your time off work and medical expenses by lodging a WorkCover claim.
At Polaris, we are experts in WorkCover compensation claims. For advice or assistance, speak with a Polaris WorkCover lawyer today. It doesn’t cost you anything to find out if you have a claim.