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NSW Introduces Workers’ Compensation Presumptions for COVID-19, Will Queensland Follow Suit?

By Chris Volpi

1st June 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has had a significant impact on employment and the Australian economy. Workers who have been lucky enough to retain their jobs face the risk of being unable to work for an extended period of time if they are diagnosed with COVID-19.

This risk significantly increases for those who work in areas that make it more susceptible for a worker to contract COVID-19 during the course of their employment.

If a worker in Queensland is diagnosed with COVID-19, the worker may be entitled to receive workers’ compensation if the worker can show that the worker’s employment was a significant contributing factor to the diagnosis. To satisfy the significant contributing factor test, the worker would need to prove that the exposure to COVID-19 occurred in the work environment. In some circumstances this can be very difficult to prove resulting in the worker being unable to access workers’ compensation.

In response to COVID-19 the NSW government has introduced section 19B into the Workers Compensation Act 1987 (NSW). Section 19B provides that if a worker in ‘prescribed employment’ contracts COVID-19, it is presumed that the the disease was contracted by the worker in the course of the worker’s employment, and that the employment was either a substantial contributing factor or the main contracting factor. The definition of ‘prescribed employment’ is very broad and includes workers employed in the retail sector, hospitality, aged care, police and emergency services and the construction industry.

The introduction of section 19B provides NSW workers in ‘prescribed employment’ with increased protections and greater certainty regarding access to compensation in the event that a worker contracts COVID-19 during the course of their employment.

Given the impact of COVID-19, it will be interesting to see if the Queensland government will follow NSW by amending the Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (QLD) to provide similar presumptions to those introduced into the NSW Workers Compensation Act.

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