With Australia’s economic landscape changing rapidly in light of COVID-19, State and Federal Governments have rolled out numerous schemes to support businesses and individuals through the challenges ahead. As a means to seek further support, individuals may start to explore the availability of additional support such as Workers Compensation benefits, as evidenced by trends following the Global Financial crisis in 2009.

The possibility of increased Workers Compensation claims, coupled with widespread shifts to remote workforces across Australia, presents new and evolving risks to many businesses. In the following article, we’ll step through three scenarios that may arise during this time, and share what businesses can do to minimise risk exposure. We’ll also outline how Honan can support clients through each scenario.


Scenario 1: Existing claims impact and availability of return to work duties

In many scenarios, particularly for small to medium sized businesses, access to suitable employment through Covid-19 is difficult. This is particularly so for industries such as retail, service providers, real estate, hospitality and tourism.  An Employer remains obligated to provide Workers with suitable employment or duties, however in the absence of such duties, Workers will be entitled to their wage entitlement under the relevant State Legislation, including job seeking support. This wage entitlement remains until such time the Worker is either cleared to perform their preinjury role, or secure new employment outside of their previous role.


What can Employers do?

Where and if able, ensure these at-risk Workers are provided suitable duties to reduce the cost impact.  If suitable duties are not available, it is important to work with your Insurer and Broker, so they are both aware of the lack of suitable duties and the economic impact of COVID-19 on your business. Maintaining accurate records is critical during such a time.


How can Honan help?

We can help you understand the impact of these types of claims on your premium, to ensure you’re budging accurately. We can also offer risk mitigation strategies to reduce ongoing impacts through our claims support provider. Furthermore, we’ll ensure your insurer continues to analyse any malingering or fraudulent claims.

Our brokers continue to work with State Regulators to ascertain what premium relief can be applied in light of COVID-19.  At the timing of writing 9 April 2020, Regulators are yet to announce if any further relief will be made available outside of existing Government stimulus packages. The NSW Regulator – SIRA, has indicated a review may take place.


Scenario 2: Arising claims – working from home (WFH) & mental health impact

Employers have a duty, in so far as is reasonably practicable, to provide a working environment for their employees that is safe and without risks to health. This includes identifying and controlling risks to health or safety associated with potential exposure to COVID-19.  It also includes controlling new risks that may be introduced by an employee working from a location other than their normal workplace (such as their home office), and psychological health risks too.


What can Employers do?

It is essential for Employers to stay connected with their Workers to ensure they remain physically and mitigated against the mental health risks associated with isolation and/or new ways of working.  Employers should also maintain regular communication with staff to ensure they’re familiar with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Staff should be reassured and well equipped to protect their personal safety by way of appropriate tools, resources and guides, such as working from home checklists.


How can Honan help?

To support Employers through this time, we have developed a Working From Home checklist, as well as Policy and Procedure documents to be shared with employees working from home.  Online ergonomic assessments and early intervention is also key to reducing claims. Ensuring checklists are implemented up front is a pivotal step Employers can take in identifying their risk exposure, and planning appropriate mitigation strategies. We have Occupational Rehabilitation providers ready to support employers with ergonomic and psychological risk assessments and exposures. Be sure to view our 30-minute Remote Working webinar too.


Scenario 3: Claim liability determination – COVID19 

Understanding how to safeguard your business and employees from the risks associated with COVID-19 is paramount. From a legislative perspective, the grounds for a Workers Compensation claim have not changed. As COVID-10 continues to spread, some claims are likely to eventuate for Employers. Should one be lodged due to COVID-19, the deeming authority across the schemes will need to be satisfied that the injury, illness or disease (i.e. contracting COVID-19) arose out of, or in the course of employment. Deeming an illness or disease as ‘work related’ and ‘unique to the workplace’ may require court intervention to distinguish medical opinion from legal facts. There is no liability determination available to declare an illness or disease compensable or non-compensable –  each case will be reviewed on its own merits, with regard to the individual circumstances and evidence.


What can Employers do?

As Workers Compensation is considered a “no fault” system, the onus in defending a work-related injury is dependent on the Employer’s ability to provide appropriate evidence (particularly where an injury is in dispute), that appropriate policies and procedures, communication – including appropriate incident investigations – were in place and adhered to.  Therefore, having the right policies and procedures will directly influence the claim determination.

As more and more workplaces in NSW return to the office, it’s important to know about recent Legislative changes in NSW. These changes establish presumptive rights to compensation under the 1987 Act in respect to COVID-19 for workers in certain “prescribed employment”, who may face a higher risk of exposure.

These revisions make it easier for workers (in the industries noted below) who contract COVID-19 to access Workers Compensation entitlements because of the greater risk of exposure in these industries.   Section 19B(9) defines what is meant by “prescribed employment“.


How can Honan help?

We support Employers in understanding their risk profiles to ensure appropriate risk mitigation strategies are in place.  Whether this requires more robust policies and procedures, stricter safety checklists or just knowing the right questions to ask, our Honan Work Health & Safety and Legal experts are ready to provide the right advice to reduce your risk exposures.


With you all the way

As always, we’re committed to providing you with timely updates and support. For more information about COVID-19 and Government stimulus packages, legislative updates and business continuity, please head to the Honan News Hub or Honan LinkedIn.

The Honan Workplace Risk team is here to assist you. Feel free to reach out to the team if you have questions or you’d like more information.


Sharon Rutherford – Head of Workplace Risk



Jules Paolino – Workplace Risk Consultant


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