‘Long-COVID’ - Dealing with COVID-19 workplace injuries and consequential conditions

Key Points:

  • The current two-week lockdown in NSW is a timely reminder that COVID-19 and the risks of COVID-19 infections in the course of employment remain real, particularly for those essential workers who are unable to work from home.
  • Initial liability for a claim with respect to a COVID-19 diagnosis is often easily established, particularly following legislative amendments in May 2020 creating a presumption that workers in certain types of employment will be presumed to have contracted the infection at work, thus reversing the onus onto employers to establish that the infection was not contracted in the course of employment.
  • We provide a step by step guide on what to do when a worker lodges a claim after contracting COVID-19 at work.
The current two-week lockdown in NSW is a timely reminder that COVID-19 and the risk of COVID-19 infections in the course of employment remain real, particularly for those essential workers who are unable to work from home.

Initial liability for a claim with respect to a COVID-19 diagnosis is often easily established, particularly following legislative amendments in May 2020 creating a presumption that workers in certain types of employment (including retail, health care, front line emergency services, educational officers, cleaning, construction, hospitality, disability and aged care, passenger transport services, correctional centres, courts and tribunals, places of entertainment, supermarkets, funeral homes and childcare facilities) will be presumed to have contracted the infection at work, thus reversing the onus onto employers to establish that the infection was not contracted in the course of employment.

We are now seeing that claims are being made with respect to further consequential conditions associated with what has been termed “long-COVID”.

Whilst the effects of “long-COVID” are beginning to be documented, there is very limited medical research and literature available on this issue. Care must be taken to ensure additional body parts and systems are not associated with the initial diagnosis due to this lack of scientific knowledge.

According to the Australian Government Department of Health, symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, coughing, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny nose, blocked nose, headaches, muscle or joint pain, nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, loss of sense of smell and taste, loss of appetite and fatigue.

The Australian Government Department of Health has also addressed the emerging evidence of “long-COVID” which refers to prolonged symptoms of fatigue, abnormal pulmonary function, cardiovascular consequences, deterioration in hearing, neurological sequelae and mental health consequences such as PTSD.

So, what can you do if a worker lodges a claim after contracting COVID-19 at work?
  1. It is important to establish if a worker has had any pre-existing conditions or previous medical issues that may be the reason for the presenting symptomology post a COVID-19 diagnosis.
  2. Review all evidence from treating doctors and obtain clinical notes from all treating professionals to get an accurate picture of the workers medical history.
  3. Obtain expert evidence early and prior to accepting consequential conditions. These reports will assist in determining initial liability for any consequential conditions as well as assessing emerging medical research and literature on the long-term effects of COVID-19 infections.
  4. Once all the material is obtained, consideration can then be given as to what ongoing conditions are accepted and what should be appropriately declined based on the available evidence.

Hicksons Lawyers has a team experienced in dealing with these emerging issues.

Post by Hicksons Partner, Mitchell Strachan, and Solicitor, Emily Kheir.

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