What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced that COVID-19 is a pandemic. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. WHO have determined that the people that are infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. Older people and those with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer are more than likely to develop serious illness.

The current situation in Australia

The situation regarding COVID-19 is changing rapidly and the Australian Government is updating information regularly regarding the spread of the disease and how Australians can help slow the spread. From midday today, (23 March 2020) pubs, clubs, cinemas, casinos, nightclubs, indoor places of worship, gyms and indoor sporting venues will be forced to close under the new measures. The ABC has confirmed that both state and federal governments have enacted emergency powers that give them the right to fine and even jail people who breach lockdown orders. The Australian government is taking precautions to prevent further spread of the disease.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on injured workers

Accessing health services

Due to the potential for COVID-19 to affect a worker’s ability to access health services and a provider’s ability to deliver face-to-face treatment services, the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) have announced that they are updating the Fees Orders to expand telehealth services. This includes the delivery of consultations via telephone in addition to already occurring video consultations. Telehealth services require pre-approval from the insurer and must be consented to by all parties – the worker, practitioner and insurer. Practitioners must consider the appropriateness of this mode of service delivery on a case-by-case basis for each injured worker.

Certificates of capacity

Section 44B of the Workers Compensation Act 1987 identifies what evidence is required as to work capacity. It allows certificates of capacity to be issued for periods greater than 28 days. If the medical practitioner completing the certificate includes the special reasons on the certificate for the longer period and the insurer is satisfied that, for the special reasons stated, the certificate should be accepted, then a certificate may cover a greater period than 28 days. By issuing certificates of capacity that cover a longer period, medical practitioners are reducing the risk for workers and general practitioners to be potentially exposed to COVID-19.

Injured workers working from home

A worker who is receiving workers compensation payments and is required to work from home to manage social distancing requirements, may be able to be supported by SIRA’s equipment program Section 53 of the Workplace Injury Management and Workers Compensation Act 1998 allows SIRA to develop, administer and coordinate rehabilitation schemes for workers. The SIRA equipment and workplace modifications program provides funding for workplace equipment or modifications that may assist a worker to remain at work with their pre-injury employer or to commence work with a new employer. These resources provided by SIRA could be used to assist injured workers who are required to work from home.

Injured workers undertaking training programs

The SIRA equipment program could also provide resources for workers who are currently undertaking face-to-face training funded by SIRA, whom may need support to access equipment to study online if their training institution requires this during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Workers who may have to suspend their return to work for an extended period due to their workplace scaling back or closing down, may wish to consider if training could be used during this period to retain their motivation and prevent disengagement. Injured workers can review SIRA’s training program materials for more information.

JobCover Placement Program

If an employer using the JobCover Placement program (JCPP) has employed an injured worker and needs to scale back or close their workplaces momentarily due to the impact of COVID-19, SIRA have confirmed that the duration of the JCPP for the worker will be increased to accommodate that period of change.

The employer will need to keep a record of the period of changed operations to support their claim for the incentive payments as their business re-opens along with the usual proof of payment of wages to the injured worker.

‘Recover at work assist’ program

SIRA are extending the timeframe of this pilot program to 31 December 2020. If an injured worker is on a recovery at work plan and their employer scales back or closes the program due to the impact of COVID-19, the period of the program remaining can be resumed, once the period of changed business operations is over and the worker returns to work on their upgrading plan.

If you are an injured worker and have any questions on how COVID-19 could affect your workplace rights or entitlements, please contact Turner Freeman Lawyers.