COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation Claim Impacts
The impacts associated with government measures to address the spread of COVID-19 will affect how existing workers’ compensation claims are managed.
The possible impacts on workers’ compensation arrangements may include:
- Impacts on existing claimants who are receiving compensation but may be restricted from returning to work
- Injury management and return to work barriers on workers and employers
- Medical treatment, including availability of health practitioners and use of telehealth consultations where appropriate.
This notice provides guidance on these matters.
All participants are expected to continue taking a flexible and practical approach to minimise impacts on injured workers and employers in these challenging times which includes maintaining entitlements and benefits, where appropriate, until the situation stabilises.
Entitlement to weekly payments where COVID-19 RTW restrictions apply
The COVID-19 situation poses challenges for determining a worker’s ongoing entitlement to weekly compensation payments where workers are stood down or have their employment terminated due to business shutdowns (and therefore lose wages).
Insurers and self insurers are expected to be cognisant of the exceptional circumstances faced by workers and employers when considering whether to reduce or discontinue weekly payments in the following circumstances:
- For workers who have returned to work on restricted duties or hours and subsequently terminated from employment or stood down temporarily solely in relation to COVID-19 impacts on the employer’s business.
- For workers who recover from their injury and are certified fit to return to work but neither the pre-injury position, nor any alternative position for which the worker is qualified and capable of performing, is reasonably available to the worker (solely due to COVID-19 impacts on the worker’s return to work).
Before proceeding with any notice or application to reduce or discontinue weekly payments insurers and self insurers should confirm whether or not workers are constrained in their ability to return to work as a wage earner (either with their pre injury employer or any other employer), due to COVID-19 restrictions.
One option is to delay any notice or application to reduce or discontinue payments for a specified period to enable a review of the circumstances of the worker, employer and any return to work program.
Injury management and return to work programs
Many return to work programs and injury management obligations of workers and employers will be affected and possibly compromised by COVID-19 restrictions.
Workers who are not able to return to or recover at work due to the impact of COVID 19 on their workplace should be encouraged to keep active at home to retain their fitness and health. Workers may need additional assistance to manage any concerns about returning to work during this time.
Employers may face increased challenges supporting workers with work-related injury to recover at work and to optimally undertake their workers’ compensation obligations. For example, employers may be unable to take a worker back because the business activity the worker was employed to do cannot be performed due to lock downs and social isolation requirements.
Workers may be reluctant to comply with a return to work program requirement or attend a medical appointment if they feel it puts them at risk of contracting COVID-19.
If this occurs, workers are encouraged to contact their employer or the employer’s insurer to discuss the situation. It may be that the concern is unfounded, and attendance or participation is required, or that the requirement is modified or appointment rescheduled if there are reasonable concerns or barriers.
These issues should be considered in return to work planning and compliance. Ensure goals and activities are practical and do not compromise the health and safety of workers or the capacity of employers in the current situation. When arranging for any medical review of an injured worker be mindful of any Government restrictions that may impact on an injured worker’s ability to comply.
WorkCover WA recognises the challenges presented by COVID-19 for medical and allied health providers and their interactions with injured workers.
To help minimise social contact and the demands currently placed on medical resources, the use of telehealth services is encouraged for consultations where direct patient contact and examination is not essential.
As there are no specific service codes for telehealth, medical and allied health providers should use the relevant service codes that apply to consultations generally. The fees for these services should also be applied.
In some cases appointments injured workers are required to attend, either with their treating medical practitioner (e.g. to check on progress) or with medical specialists (as initiated by the worker’s employer or insurer for independent review) may need to occur less frequently or be rescheduled.