COVID-19: What does it mean if you are a Queensland business owner?

The rapid rise of Coronavirus cases worldwide but also now in Queensland will have an enormous impact on business. At this time and during the next months business owners must be mindful of their obligations in addition to their workers’ rights and entitlements.

To make things easier for our clients, we highlight some really useful question and answers to assist employers in understanding their rights in Queensland in regards to worker’s compensation, listed below:

What safety measures should business owners be implementing to protect their workers and remain compliant with WH&S policies?

Short Answer: Work Health & Safety policies require employers generally, to take precautions against risks to reasonably manage the health and safety of their employees. Employers should be identifying and managing the relevant work health and safety risks posed by the possibility of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.

For some employers, this translates to implementation of various ‘working from home’ procedures, for others (as seen in schools) it involves an increased cleaning and hygiene regime. Notably, employers should be aware that employees who contract COVID-19 in the course of their employmentmay have valid WorkCover injury claims.

Will workers have recourse to a WorkCover claim where they are working from home because of COVID-19 restrictions?

Short Answer: Yes. Whilst workers may not be working in their standard workplace at this time, employers still have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment and to have in place an accident insurance policy with WorkCover Queensland.

Workers will be covered for injuries occurring at home, if it is in the course of their employment,and, their employment can be considered as a significant contributing factor to the injury. 

Will WorkCover compensate an employee for wages lost during a quarantine period, whether self-imposed or directed?

Short Answer: No. An employee will not be entitled to recover compensation for lost wages unless:

  1. There is a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19;
  2. The exposure to COVID-19 has been confirmed as occurring “in the course of their employment”; and
  3. There is an accepted worker’s compensation claim on foot at the time.

Can a business owner recover from WorkCover the costs associated with the independent arrangement of workers’ COVID-19 testing?

Short Answer: WorkCover will only provide compensation and reimbursements of any description where there is an active Workcover injury claim on foot. This means that an employer will only be reimbursed for COVID-19 related costs where;

  1. The employee is subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19;
  2. The exposure has been confirmed to be a ‘work-related injury’;
  3. The employee has an accepted workers compensation claim; and
  4. The costs are reasonable in the circumstances.

What impact will COVID-19 claims have on business owners’ premiums and payable excess?

Short Answer: The WorkCover compensation scheme operates the same way once a claim has been accepted as any other injury So an employee will be entitled to weekly compensation, medical and rehabilitation expenses and return to work support. Employers are obligated through the insurance scheme, to pay an excess, being the first payment of weekly compensation.

These obligations are not affected by virtue of the injury claim being on the basis of COVID-19.

What about the business owner? Are they covered for COVID-19 testing and subsequent claims?

Short Answer: A pre-requisite to lodging a WorkCover application is that the injured party is a “worker” pursuant to the relevant legislation. Take note that directors, partners, sole traders and trustees are not considered “workers” and consequently are excluded from coverage.

A business owner will not likely be covered for any testing costs or claims arising out of their accident insurance policies. However they should review their insurance policies as they may be entitled to compensation under a workplace personal injury insurance policy.

We are here to help

Business owners are best placed to exercise caution and discernment in ensuring their obligations are upheld and employee entitlements recognised, now more than ever. Please contact our office and speak to one of our highly-skilled workers’ compensation lawyers who will provide clarity and a direction forward. Contact us on (07) 3252 0011.

Author:  Brittany Everett.

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