- Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the New South Wales workers compensation scheme and not just in the number of claims by workers who contracted the disease.
- Certain classes of workers are entitled to a presumption that they contracted Covid-19 whilst working, but there is a bill before Parliament to end this entitlement.
- Disputes about psychological injuries allegedly caused by vaccine mandates are currently awaiting determination.
Over the past two years Covid-19 has penetrated every aspect of daily life and the New South Wales (‘NSW’) workers compensation scheme has not been immune to its effects. It is not surprising that, as workers compensation claims are intimately bound to work, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on workers in NSW can be traced through the complaints and legal funding functions of the Independent Review Office (‘IRO’).
Covid-19 and the NSW workers compensation scheme
Early in the pandemic, workers were confused by the effect of JobKeeper payments on their workers compensation entitlements, the impact of job loss and the availability of suitable employment for injured workers on weekly payments for loss of earnings (see Covid-19 Report March to December 2020). Travel restrictions affected workers who needed to attend medical appointments for treatment or assessment on behalf of insurers. Telehealth was available for many but was not always suitable to meet the specific needs of workers or insurers.
From June 2021, throughout the Delta outbreak in Sydney, the issues raised with IRO continued to be very similar to those raised early in the pandemic. In addition, the operation of s 59A of the Workers Compensation Act 1987 (NSW) (‘WCA’) – which prescribes time limits for payment of medical expenses – emerged as a significant issue for injured workers as Covid restrictions prevented many from accessing treatment within those timeframes.
Aside from matters in which workers claimed to have suffered an injury related to Covid-19, many other matters with grants of funding were impacted by the pandemic. To the end of December 2021, there were approximately 800 grants delayed because workers could not undergo the medical examinations necessary to progress their claims (see IRO COVID-19 Report July to December 2021).
In the latter half of 2021, IRO experienced a significant increase in the number of Covid-19 related complaints and enquiries, as well as applications for grants of funding. Indeed, 60 per cent of all applications for claims with COVID-19 related issues, made between 1 March 2020 and 31 December 2021, were received in the final quarter of 2021 (IRO COVID-19 Report July to December 2021). The nature of complaints and enquiries began to include concerns about vaccine mandates.