From 23 November 2021, South Australia’s borders will be open to fully vaccinated people from all Australian states and territories, with some exceptions (SA Gov). The expected rise in COVID-19 transmission means everyone should be aware of their rights and responsibilities when it comes to safety at work and workers compensation.
 

Workplace Responsibilities

Any person conducting a business has a responsibility to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers in their workplace. This likely includes minimising, if not wholly eliminating, the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Consequently, workplaces are expected to continue with physical distancing, mask wearing, good hygiene, regular cleaning and maintenance, and encouraging vaccination. 

Employers should keep up to date with cleaning requirements for the various workplaces (SA Health).

Workers have responsibilities to take reasonable care for their own safety too. Workers should ensure their acts or omissions don’t adversely affect the health and safety of others. Workers must also comply with reasonable instructions and co-operate any reasonable policy or procedure relating to health or safety at the workplace. 

Employers are encouraged to read the SafeWork Australia guides and understand how to best provide a safe working environment. Read the SafeWork guides here to check if your workplace is complying with the recommendations.  

What Happens if my Workplace is Deemed an Exposure Site? 

If your workplace is exposed to COVID-19, the following guidelines for assessing and managing risk have been implemented by SA Health: 

  • General Businesses and Venues: hospitality, community sport, places of worship, retail services, entertainment facilities, higher level education, beauty and other services, information and educational facilities, major recreation facilities.  
  • Critical services and infrastructure: defence, essential infrastructure work (i.e. energy services, water services, food manufacturing), emergency services, veterinary services, and agriculture.   
  • Primary and community health care settings: medical settings, paramedics, pharmacies, pathology services, non-residential disability care. 

What Financial Support Exists if I am Directed to Quarantine or Isolate?  

The South Australian Government has outlined a pandemic leave support payment and cluster isolation payment for individuals. More information can be found here 

Alternatively, sick/personal leave, annual leave, income protection (where a policy allows), or other applicable insurance may be available to you. If you are unsure of your entitlements, you should speak to a lawyer. 

Can I Claim Workers Compensation if I Catch COVID-19 at work? 

If you catch COVID-19 and believe you caught it from work, then you can make a workers compensation claim, this is even if your employer took all reasonable steps to minimise the risk. Whether you succeed will depend on your unique circumstances. You will have to prove on balance that the infection came from the workplace, rather than another source such as exposure in the community outside of work. It is highly recommended that you speak to a lawyer if you think you caught COVID-19 at work. 

Boylan Lawyers puts the rights of South Australian workers first. If you want more information about your rights as a worker, contact our team of employment and workers compensation experts on (08) 8632 2777.  

Elias Angeletti is Senior Associate at Boylan Lawyers, specialising in employment and workers compensation law. Elias was admitted in 2014 and has since been involved in workers compensation legal proceedings before the South Australian Employment Tribunal, Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Supreme Court of South Australia, and the High Court of Australia.  

Read ‘Presuming COVID-19 arises from work‘ which outlines why COVID-19 should be a deemed injury under the Return To Work Act 2014 (RTW Act) South Australia.

Under the RTW Act South Australia has a list of jobs and medical conditions that are presumed to have occurred (deemed injuries) because the injury or disease occurred when they were undertaking a task that is likely to have caused that injury or disease. Unless there is proof to the contrary from the insurer/employer (the reverse onus) then the claim for that injury is accepted.

Covid-19 must be included in that list, at least for workers such as nurses, doctors and cleaners who are working in ‘high-risk’ areas, or the front line. Section 9 is the evidentiary provision under the RTW Act.