NSW worker’s compensation rules about Covid in the workplace slated for change

A quiet announcement made by the NSW government could spell disaster for workers in the state who develop Covid complications over the coming months.

A quiet announcement made on a Sunday by the NSW government could spell disaster for workers in the state who develop “long Covid” and other complications from the virus over the coming months.

However, it’s good news for bosses around the state, particularly small business owners, as they’ll be forking out less cash to insurance companies.

On Sunday, the government warned it planned to repeal Section 19B of the Workers Compensation Act 1987.

The act was amended in May last year when the coronavirus pandemic was just getting started. The changes meant it was automatically assumed that a Covid-positive worker had contracted the virus while on the job.

Essentially, it made it a lot easier to receive worker’s compensation if somebody got sick from Covid.

However, now the onus has fallen back on employees to prove they caught the virus while at work.

The issue is that those who catch Covid-19 through their work will get a payout but those who are infected elsewhere aren’t entitled to compensation.

It comes as a report estimated that 12,000 Aussie employees will be working at reduced capacity for seven months due to long-term side effects of the coronavirus while a further 6000 won’t be able to work at all in that time.

Once the amendment to the act is repealed, staff members suffering from “long Covid” but who can’t prove they caught it in the workplace will be forced to take sick leave and unpaid leave and then potentially could be forced out of their role.

On the other hand, if someone is unable to work because of long Covid but has evidence they caught the disease through their job, they could still receive a large chunk of their wage through worker’s compensation.

They would be able to receive 80 per cent of their earnings if they were unable to work.

The same goes for compensation for Covid-19 deaths.

If you were exposed at Covid-19 through your workplace and died, your family would generally receive around $1 million in compensation.

But if you can’t definitively prove you caught the virus at work, you won’t get any compensation in the event of your death.

Doherty Institute modelling estimated that Covid-19 claims would cost the NSW workers compensation system up to $638 million over the coming year.

Currently, the presumptive legislation applies to most customer service industries including the hospitality, entertainment and retail sector, healthcare, emergency services, corrective services, courts and tribunals, childcare and construction industries, among others.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the announcement was a good thing for insurers and business owners, saving them half a billion dollars all up.

“Now we know more about Covid-19 and its transmission, amendments under Section 19B of the act must be repealed so the workers compensation system is both fair to employees and ensuring businesses aren’t hit with an unexpected spike in their insurance bills,” he said in a statement.

Businesses can now invest in new staff and higher wages and can avoid “inflated insurance bills”, he added.

If the presumptive legislation remained in place, an extra 25,000 worker’s compensation claims would be made in the coming year, according to the government.

Small businesses could be slugged with an average increase in their insurance premiums of $950.

Workers can still apply for worker’s compensation if they catch the virus, with Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello assuring employees: “Removing the automatic workers compensation entitlements will not remove a worker’s right to make a claim if they contract Covid-19 as a result of their employment.

“This right is retained.”

The NSW government will introduce a bill to repeal the presumptive legislation in the act in the coming week.

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