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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

For: Claimants Employers and managers Service providers Advocates Information seekers

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, workers and employers need to be aware of their responsibilities and entitlements.


The World Health Organization has announced that the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) is a pandemic. Regular updates concerning the Australian Government’s response to the pandemic are available from the Department of Health.

Comcare is closely monitoring the evolving situation and is focussing on the health, safety and wellbeing of workers and employers.

We have prepared guidance to:

  • assist workers and persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) to meet their obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act)
  • help employers and employees understand entitlements under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2008 (SRC Act).

Guidance and resources

We have developed some practical resources to help you and your workplace during the COVID-19 outbreak:

The following official resources provide information concerning work health and safety duties and the Australian Government’s response to the pandemic and other relevant services.

The World Health Organization has also issued advice on practical measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces or to travelling employees

Mental health and wellbeing

The mental health of workers either directly or indirectly affected by COVID-19 is an important consideration.

Some people may be struggling to deal with feelings of uncertainty, stress and anxiety, and others may be adjusting to self-isolation or working from home.

While self-isolation and working from home is an important measure that many workers and workplaces are taking to slow the spread of COVID-19, these measures can also lead to feelings of loneliness.

Finding ways to stay connected with friends, family and colleagues during periods of self-isolation and working from home is vital.

Employers need to ensure they maintain daily contact with their workers via phone, email or online to stay in touch and monitor their health, safety and wellbeing.

Some resources and practical tips to help you during this time:

You can also access support via the following confidential helpline services:

  • Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800.

Work health and safety and COVID-19

Notification of COVID-19 incidents

We recommend you notify us of all confirmed COVID-19 cases that are work-related and arise from the business or undertaking of the employer (PCBU).

Notify us of an incident

Notification allows us to consider and address risks to health and safety. We assess each notification and consider whether regulatory action is required on a case by case basis, and according to standard procedures.

Employers should review official information sources and provide clear direction and guidance about what is expected of all workers, such as:

  • when workers should stay away from the workplace
  • what action workers should take if they become unwell
  • what symptoms to be concerned about and where to seek help and support.

Employers should remind workers that they have a legal obligation to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and the health and safety of others. Workers must also comply with any reasonable instruction given by the employer in order to comply with work health and safety laws.

Managing risks

Identifying and controlling risks to workers and others in the workplace arising from exposure to COVID-19 may involve:

Working remotely

Employers have duties to workers who work remotely, including from home, and must take steps to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their workers.

We have prepared a checklist for working from home (PDF, 914.5 KB) that provides minimum guidance for employers and workers to meet their work health and safety obligations.

Download the Working from Home checklist

Physical activity

  • Repetitive actions are not continued for long periods without appropriate breaks.
  • Breaks involve stretching and changing of posture, and possibly alternating activity.
  • Posture is comfortable.
  • Any lifting, pushing, or carrying is well within the physical capacity of the person.
  • Trolleys or other mechanisms are used for moving heavy and awkward items.

The work environment

  • Levels of illumination and location of lighting fixtures should be suited to the activity. Lighting levels should be sufficient for visual tasks to be completed without eye strain. Greater illumination is generally needed for fine visual tasks. Natural and artificial light sources should not create glare via reflection on the computer screen or working surface.
  • Sufficient levels of ventilation and thermal comfort.
  • Location, height and other physical characteristics of furniture and computer are suited to the task and take into consideration other factors, such as egress routes, direction of light source.
  • Walkways are clear of clutter and trip hazards such as trailing electrical cords.
  • No damaged flooring, such as uneven tiles or pulled-up carpet.
  • Suitable storage for documents and books.
  • Where possible, workers should only use equipment that has been issued by their employer and has recently been tagged and tested.

Communication

  • Have an agreed communication system to monitor the worker’s health and safety, such as call-in or email morning and night.
  • Have an agreement with the worker that they notify the PCBU of any change to their situation that is relevant to their health, or another worker's health and safety when working from home, such as a pet, renovations or moving house.
  • Document communication strategies and agreements.

Work practices

  • When working on a keyboard, workers take a break every 30 minutes and stand at least once per hour.
  • Keyboarding posture—wrists are kept straight and not supported on any surface while typing.
  • Sitting posture is upright or slightly reclined, maintaining a slight hollow in lower back.
  • Hand is used to hold telephone receiver or headset is worn (no cradling).
  • Long periods of continuous computer use are broken up by performing other tasks.

Mental health

  • Establish a routine and boundaries with family and friends around work hours.
  • Schedule regular meetings to maintain ongoing contact with colleagues and clients to stay connected and foster positive working relationships.
  • Ongoing communications via phone, email and via your organisation’s videoconferencing and instant messaging platforms.
  • Use outdoor spaces where possible when taking breaks and try to incorporate some exercise or other activity during the day.
  • Playing music or listening to the radio helps to create a harmonious working environment.
  • Identify potential distractions and put strategies in place to minimise them, for example separating work activities from home activities.

Workers' compensation and COVID-19

Coverage

A virus, like COVID-19, is likely to be considered under the disease provisions of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRC Act). For a disease to be covered it must be contributed to, to a significant degree, by the employee’s employment (section 5B).

For coverage to exist, a determining authority would need to be satisfied that the employment significantly contributed to the employee contracting the virus. For viruses, it can be difficult to accurately determine the exact time and place of contraction. As a result, it may be difficult to determine that employment significantly contributed to the virus.

However, where an employee’s employment puts them at greater risk of contracting the virus the significant contribution test may be easier to meet. For example, if the employment involves:

  • travel to an area with a known viral outbreak
  • activities that include engagement or interaction with people who have contracted the virus
  • activities that contravene Department of Health recommendations.

Each claim would need to be considered on its individual merits, having regard to the individual circumstances and evidence in relation to the claim.

Coverage while working from home

An employee’s home can be their place of work, just like any other work location. To determine if an employee is covered for workers’ compensation, the same SRC Act tests apply. That is, an injury has to arise ‘out of, or in the course of, the employee’s employment’ (section 5A) for coverage to exist. A disease must be ‘contributed to, to a significant degree, by the employee’s employment’ (section 5B) for coverage to exist.

Employers should provide clear guidelines to employees regarding work hours and break times so that any injury that occurs while at home can be properly assessed for compensation purposes.

Coverage while travelling overseas for work

The significant contribution test applies to both employees working overseas and those working within Australia. Each case will be assessed on its own facts.

Note: For locally engaged overseas employees (employees engaged overseas to perform duties overseas) different legislative considerations will apply. For further information, email general.enquiries@comcare.gov.au or call 1300 366 979.

Medical examinations, rehabilitation assessments and return to work programs

Employees with existing claims are encouraged to contact their claims manager to discuss their individual circumstances, and each case will be assessed on its own facts.

Comcare will carefully consider whether it is reasonable to request an employee attend a medical examination or rehabilitation assessment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This will take into account a range of factors including:

  • the employee’s concerns
  • health issues that increase risk of infection such as chronic medical conditions and compromised immune system
  • whether the location of the examination puts the employee at greater risk of exposure
  • if the examination can be postponed until a future date.

If a medical examiner or assessor has cancelled an examination due to exposure risks, an employee’s compensation will continue and the examination will be rescheduled.

An employee with a compensable injury who is on a return to work program can claim compensation payments for the hours or days they are unfit for work as a result of their compensable condition. For the hours or days they are fit for work, the employee will be subject to the same workplace arrangements that apply to other employees in the organisation.

Employer support

Where employees are potentially exposed to the virus as part of their employment, employers should provide guidance and assistance to the employee to make a claim for workers’ compensation.

Employers should also support the health and recovery of their workers through early intervention while the claim process is pending.

For further information, email general.enquiries@comcare.gov.au or call 1300 366 979.

Telehealth

Telehealth explained

Telehealth is the use of digital information and communication technologies, such as computers and mobile devices, to access health care services remotely.

Telehealth services can be provided by doctors, nurses, mental health and certain allied health professionals to provide some services.

The Australian Government Department of Health has released its guidance on Medicare support for telehealth services. The telehealth service allows people to access essential health services while they undergo self-isolation or quarantine and reduces the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the community.

How to access telehealth

To access telehealth services, you should contact your usual care medical practitioner, such as your GP, to ask if they offer the service. Alternatively, you may seek support from a telehealth doctor.

Telehealth facilities and medical treatment

Telehealth services can be used to obtain medical treatment under the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRC Act) for medical and some allied health services to employees who have a claim.

Payment for the use of telehealth services will be made where deemed appropriate. Each case will be assessed on its own facts. In assessing any request, the claims manager will determine whether the use of telehealth services is reasonable and in line with the requirements of the SRC Act.

Employees and service providers who want to use telehealth services to obtain treatment can contact their claims manager to discuss.

Telehealth facilities and medical examinations and rehabilitation assessments

Telehealth services can also be used to conduct medical examinations and rehabilitation assessments.

It is at the claims manager’s discretion to determine if a telehealth examination or assessment is reasonable in the circumstances.

Claims and Coronavirus (COVID-19) frequently asked questions

We have prepared answers to some frequently asked questions about claims and COVID-19.

Am I covered for workers’ compensation if I contract COVID-19?

A virus, like COVID-19, would be considered under the disease provisions of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRC Act). For a disease to be covered it must be contributed to, to a significant degree, by the employee’s employment (section 5B).

For coverage to exist, a determining authority (the claim decision maker) would need to be satisfied that employment significantly contributed to the employee contracting the virus. For viruses, it can be difficult to accurately determine the exact time and place of contraction. It can therefore be difficult to determine that employment was a significant contributing factor.

However, where an employee’s employment puts them at greater risk of contracting the virus the significant contribution test may be easier to meet. For example, if the employment involves:

  • travel to an area with a known viral outbreak
  • activities that include engagement or interaction with people who have contracted the virus
  • activities that contravene Department of Health recommendations.

Each claim would need to be considered on its individual merits, having regard to the individual circumstances and evidence in relation to the claim.

How does COVID-19 affect my current claim?

If an employee has any concerns about how COVID-19 might affect their existing claim they should speak to their claims manager.

How does COVID-19 affect my rehabilitation and return to work?

If an employer or the community sets out restrictions due to COVID-19 and these restrictions impact an employee’s ability to meet obligations outlined in their rehabilitation program, the employee should raise their concerns with their rehabilitation case manager. Where relevant, adjustments should be made to an existing program to accommodate a change in circumstances.

Will I be entitled to compensation payments if I contract COVID-19 while attending medical treatment as part of my claim?

An employee is unlikely to be entitled to compensation if they contract COVID-19 while attending medical treatment as part of their claim. The SRC Act provides coverage for an injury suffered ‘as a result of’ medical treatment that was obtained in relation to an existing compensable injury. The contraction of a virus is not ‘as a result of’ medical treatment, but rather a result of potential exposure to the virus in the community or while accessing a medical facility.

Am I covered for workers’ compensation if I am are injured while working from home?

When an employee (including an overseas employee) has approval to work from home, their home can become their ‘place of work’ for the purposes of the SRC Act. Any injury sustained in the home is only covered under the SRC Act if it is connected to the employee’s employment. This connection is determined by applying the same legislative tests that would apply to any other place of work (e.g. an office). That is, an injury has to arise ‘out of, or in the course of, the employee’s employment’ (section 5A) for coverage to exist. A disease must be ‘contributed to, to a significant degree, by the employee’s employment’ (section 5B) for coverage to exist.

I have been asked to attend an independent medical examination (or rehabilitation assessment) and the medical examiner (or assessor) has cancelled the examination due to exposure risks. What happens next?

If a medical examiner (or assessor) has cancelled an examination, an employee’s compensation cannot be suspended for unreasonably failing to attend the examination. Where relevant, we will consider postponing a new examination until a later date.

Where an employee’s compensation has already been suspended (due to refusal or failure to undergo an examination), and the required examination has now been cancelled due to exposure risks, the employee should discuss their options with their claims manager and/or rehabilitation case manager.

Is it a reasonable excuse if I fail to attend a medical examination (or rehabilitation assessment) because of a general fear of contracting COVID-19?

An employee should raise any concerns they have about attending an examination with their claims manager prior to the scheduled examination. This allows time to reschedule the examination where possible.

When assessing whether an employee has unreasonably failed to attend an examination, we consider a range of factors including:

  • the concerns of the employee
  • whether the employee falls within the category of those most at risk of serious infections, for example,
    • does the employee have a compromised immune system?
    • are they elderly?
    • are they Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (as they may have higher rates of chronic illness)?
    • do they have a chronic medical condition?
    • are they in a group residential setting?
  • whether the location of the examination puts the employee at greater risk of exposure
  • if the examination can realistically be postponed until a future date
  • the impact a potential suspension of compensation (as a result of refusal or failure to attend) will have on an employee’s circumstances.

I am on a return to work program because of my work injury. Would I be entitled to compensation payments if I am no longer able to attend my workplace because my employer has asked all employees not to attend work?

An employee with a compensable injury who is on a return to work program is able to claim compensation payments for the period they unfit for work as a result of their compensable condition. Employees are encouraged to discuss their individual circumstances with their claims manager and employer. For the hours or days they are fit for work, the employee will be subject to the same workplace arrangements that apply to other employees in the organisation.

Comcare events and courses

It is with regret that we have suspended all face-to-face training and courses, and events.

This is in response to the unprecedented outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Comcare has taken decisive action to reduce the risk of transmission through these activities.

We are disappointed we can’t deliver our training courses as planned, as we had created a full program of valuable information, which we were excited to deliver to you throughout 2020.

We are working hard to redesign our training content and forums experience so we can deliver these online.

We will keep you updated about our new plans including Comcare’s new Learning Management System (Comcare LMS) coming soon.

Page last reviewed: 15 March 2020
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Comcare
GPO Box 9905
Canberra ACT 2601