Your workers compensation coverage
If there are any changes to staffing or the way your business operates in response to the pandemic, make sure you communicate these with your insurer. This will ensure that your workers compensation insurance reflects the nature of your business and is providing the right protection.
If you have workers working from home, it’s important to remember they are still covered under workers compensation legislation. This means workers can claim for work-related injuries or illnesses that occur during the period they are working from home. For the workers compensation claim to be compensable, work activities must be proven to be the substantial contributing factor to your workers injury. The insurer will assess each claim on its individual merits.
Your workers compensation premiums
It is important that you stay in touch with your insurer during this time as there maybe changes to the workers compensations premiums you pay.
Your premiums may be impacted if you have:
- modified the type of business or service you offer
- changed any staffing arrangements including the number of staff or the hours they work
- applied for or are using receiving JobKeeper payments to support your staff
If you are experiencing financial difficulties or challenges, you can speak to your insurer to find out what assistance they may be able to offer, such as making alternative payment arrangements.
The NSW Government is providing financial support to ease the pressures on small business as a result of COVID-19. If your small business or non-profit organisation has experienced a significant decline in revenue as a result of COVID-19, you may be eligible for a small business support grant of up to $10,000.
Keep your workers safe
The health and safety of your workers must be a priority in your planning process for the re-opening or upscaling of your business. Employers must do what they can to ensure the health and safety of workers, customers, the public and volunteers. You must eliminate the risk of exposure to COVID-19 if reasonably practicable.
If you are not able to eliminate the risk of exposure to COVID-19, you must minimise that the risk, as far as is reasonably practicable.
Protect workers from the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by, for example:
- continuing to offer working from home arrangements
- requiring workers to practice physical distancing
- requiring workers to practice good hygiene (e.g. through workplace policies and ensuring access to adequate and well stocked hygiene facilities)
- requiring workers to stay home when sick, and
- cleaning the workplace regularly and thoroughly.
As restrictions continue to be lifted and your business is ‘returning to normal’ it’s important to discuss and consult on safety decisions with your workers. Joint involvement in identifying hazards and assessing and controlling workplace risks will help build worker commitment to this process and any changes that may result.
The SafeWork NSW consultation toolkit can help you with this.
Create a mentally healthy workplace
The current COVID-19 pandemic can cause heightened anxiety and stress for workers. Health obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 extend to both physical and psychological health, so you have a responsibility to support your workers in the uncertain and changing times the COVID 19 pandemic is creating.
It is important for employers to provide, so far as reasonably practicable, a mentally healthy work environment for their workers, ensuring that workers stay both physically and mentally healthy during this time. To stay up-to-date on information and resources to assist with COVID-19, access nsw.gov.au/covid-19. Find more information in the recovery@work toolkit
Review your return to work program
Your return to work program is a key element in how you deliver your culture of recovery at work and how you help workers stay active and return to health. Whether you are planning to re-open or are starting to upscale your business, it is timely to review your Return to Work Program. In consultation with your workers, ensure that the systems you have in place are sufficient to manage any current or future work-related injuries, in particular COVID-19 related claims.
Understand the legislative protections for workers with COVID-19 and how it applies to your business
As an employer, you are required to inform your workers compensation insurer of any workplace injury you become aware of within 48 hours.
For the COVID-19 claim to be compensable, work activities must be proven to be the main contributing factor (or substantial contributing factor for exempt workers) to your worker contracting the virus. The insurer will assess each claim on its individual merits. Recent changes mean that workers in prescribed employment will automatically be presumed to have contracted the virus at work (further information on the new presumption is available here).
The insurer must commence provisional weekly payments of compensation within seven days of notification, unless they have a reasonable excuse.
If you have not been notified of the insurer’s decision within seven days, you can contact SIRA for assistance on 13 10 50 or by email at email@example.com
Manage your cross-border arrangements
With the need for physical distancing, many employers have requested employees work from home, which for those close to state border lines may mean they are now working outside their ‘state of connection’.
The six states and two mainland territories of Australia have each enacted ‘State of connection’ legislative provisions. Where a worker undertakes work across more than one State or Territory (ie where they are a cross-border worker), the ‘State of connection’ provisions determine the jurisdiction in which an employer is required to obtain workers’ compensation insurance for that worker. In NSW the test for determining workers' compensation cover for cross-border workers is set out in section 9AA of the Workers Compensation Act 1987.
Cross border provisions do allow a worker to work temporarily for the same employer under the same term or contract of employment, outside their ‘State of Connection’ for up to six months without the need to reconsider where the worker ‘usually works’. Simply put, temporary arrangements in place for a period of no longer than six months are not relevant to determining where a worker usually works. When a temporary interstate work arrangement of six months has elapsed, the employer must review workers compensation insurance arrangements relating to the worker. Further information is available in the Cross-border arrangements for workers compensation.
Know your obligations if you are closing down your business
Having workers compensation is compulsory for most businesses in NSW. However, you can cancel your policy if your business ceases to trade. You will need to provide evidence of having ceased trading to your insurer. You may also need to provide wage information to your insurer so they can determine if there are any premium amounts outstanding, or if you’re entitled to receive a premium refund. If your policy is cancelled, your business will continue to be covered for claims in relation to any work-related injuries or illnesses that occurred during the time the policy was active. For more information contact your insurer.
JobKeeper and workers compensation
SIRA has introduced changes to its Market Practice and Premiums Guidelines to minimise the impact on employer premiums from payments to workers subsidised by COVID-19 related government programs, such as JobKeeper payments.
Employers using SIRA’s recover at work funded programs
If you have had to scale back or close your workplace temporarily due to the impact of COVID-19, the JobCover Placement Program or the Recover at Work Assist for Small Business can be put on hold until you are able to resume operations.
This means the duration of both these programs for the worker will be extended by the time employment has been on hold.
You can suggest that your worker contacts the insurer who is managing their claim to advise them of this change.
You should also keep a record of the period you have placed employment on hold to support your future claim for incentive payments. This will support your claim when your business re-opens along with the usual proof of payment of wages to the worker.