COVID-Sick Employees and Notifying Workplace Safety Regulators

Published
13 August 2020

While generally it is a medical practitioner who notifies a state or territory health department that a person has contracted COVID-19, an employer may also be required to notify their workplace safety regulator if an employee or other worker engaged by the school contracts COVID-19. The rules relating to when this is required vary across the states and territories. Only Victoria has passed specific legal requirements that all cases of COVID-19 in the workplace must be reported, with significant penalties for failure to do so.

For the states and territories coming under the harmonised work health and safety laws, the most basic notification requirement was/is that serious illnesses must be reported where they arise out of the workplace. However, each jurisdiction has now evolved to having slight variations on the other criteria which need to be met before a report must be made to the workplace safety regulator.

We have compiled a summary of current requirements across the country. Note that given the highly evolving nature of the risk of COVID-19 in different parts of the country, the requirements may also change at very short notice.

 

Victoria

Employers are required to notify WorkSafe Victoria immediately when they become aware that an employee, an independent contractor or an employee of an independent contractor has "received a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis and has attended the [relevant] workplace within the infectious period".

The infectious period is defined as "14 days prior to the onset of symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis (whichever comes first), until the date on which the person receives a clearance from isolation from the [Victorian] Department of Health and Human Services".

Employers in Victoria could incur fines of close to $200,000 for failing to comply with new COVID-19 notification regulations. Individuals may be fined close to $40,000. 

Further information at WorkSafe Victoria website.

Victorian employers must also include in their COVID-Safe Plan how they will manage an employee in the workplace who is discovered to have COVID-19.

 

New South Wales

No specific legislation or regulations have been passed referring specifically to notifying SafeWork NSW about an employee who has contracted COVID-19, however the SafeWork NSW website on its COVID-19 (Coronavirus) web page provides that businesses (and other PCBUs) are required to notify SafeWork NSW of serious illnesses (including COVID-19) arising out of work.

At this point other guidance material on when to report a serious illness has not yet been updated. Note that the person must have contracted COVID-19 “arising out of work”.

 

Queensland

A PCBU/employer must notify Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) “of a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 as diagnosed by a medical practitioner and arising out of the conduct of the business or undertaking:

  • that requires the person to have immediate treatment as an in-patient in a hospital; or
  • to which the carrying out of work is a significant contributing factor, including any infection that is reliably attributable to carrying out work that involves providing treatment or care to a person, or that involves contact with human blood or bodily substances.”

  

South Australia

SafeWork SA acknowledges that “proving that a disease like COVID-19 was contracted in the course of work is difficult, and may become harder as the virus becomes more wide-spread in the community.” The SafeWork SA website requires that employers only need to notify SafeWork SA of a case of COVID-19 if it can be reliably attributed to a workplace exposure and the person either:

  • is required to have in-patient treatment in hospital; or
  • dies.

Further information is available on the SafeWork SA website.

 

Tasmania

The WorkSafe Tasmania website states:

“Employers must notify WorkSafe Tasmania when it is confirmed that a person has contracted COVID-19 through carrying out work and:

  • the person dies; or
  • the person is required to have treatment as an in-patient in a hospital; or
  • the reason the person contracted COVID19 is reliably attributable to carrying out work that involves providing treatment or care to a person; or involves contact with human blood or body substances. In this case, the carrying out of work must be a significant contributing factor to the infection being contracted.

Notification must be made immediately after the employer becomes aware of the incident.”

It also states:

“Notification is required regardless of whether the Department of Health/Public Health Services is already aware of the case.”

Further information on the WorkSafe Tasmania website.

 

The Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Western Australia

At this time there are no specific requirements for COVID-19 workplace notifications in the ACT, NT or WA. The current requirements are set out below.

 

ACT

Access Canberra must be notified of a serious illness or death of a person that arises out of the conduct of a business or undertaking that requires immediate treatment as an in-patient in hospital. There is no further guidance in relation to reporting serious illnesses.

Any person conducting a business or undertaking from which the notifiable incident arises must notify Access Canberra immediately after becoming aware that it has occurred.

 

NT

NT WorkSafe must be notified where the serious illness is one of a number of listed occupational zoonoses (a disease that is transferred from animals to humans) and an infection where the work is a significant contributing factor. This includes any infection related to carrying out work:

  • with micro-organisms
  • that involves providing treatment or care to a person
  • that involves contact with human blood or body substances
  • that involves handling or contact with animals, animal hides, skins, wool or hair, animal carcasses or animal waste products.

For further information see NT WorkSafe website.

 

WA

Unchanged legislation in WA requires that WorkSafe WA be notified  of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, viral hepatitis, Legionnaires’ disease and HIV, which are contracted during work involving exposure to human blood products, body secretions, excretions or other material which may be a source of infection and listed occupational zoonoses.

 

Free COVID-19 Resources

The following resources were published earlier this year. Simply click on the link to download each.

Svetlana Pozydajew

Svetlana is a Principal Consultant (NFP) at CompliSpace. She has over 20 years of experience in strategic and operational human resource management, occupational health and safety, and design and implementation of policies and change management programs. She has held national people management responsibility positions in the public and private sectors. Svetlana holds a LLB, Masters in Management (MBA), Master of Arts in Journalism, and a Certificate in Governance for not-for-profits.