EXPLAINED | Can I claim compensation if I get Covid-19 at work?

23 July 2020 - 14:58
By Naledi Shange
The department of labour said employees could claim for compensation if they contracted the coronavirus while in the line of duty.
Image: 123RF/choreograph The department of labour said employees could claim for compensation if they contracted the coronavirus while in the line of duty.

With the economy being reopened and scores of people returning to work during the coronavirus surge, an imperative question is whether one can be compensated for contracting Covid-19 at the office.

The department of employment & labour issued a directive in a gazette published on Thursday to clarify the position of the Compensation Fund regarding compensation claims for workplace-acquired Covid-19.

“All employees, regardless of occupation, are entitled to make a claim for compensation in the event that they contract Covid-19 at the workplace,” according to the gazette. Employees who contracted Covid-19 through “work-related exposure, being exposed to people who have or are suspected to have the virus at work, while travelling on an official business-work related trip or while performing one's work related duties” were eligible to claim.  

But there are some issues to address first, including “a chronological sequence between exposure at the workplace and the development of systems”.

All claims, which would be submitted to the department of employment & labour, along with medical confirmation and supporting documents, would be assessed by medical officers working under the Compensation Fund.

In addition to exposure and clinical history the fund will also consider the “inherent risk” posed by different categories of work and occupations: 

  • Very high exposure risk occupations: This category includes health-care workers, particularly those dealing with Covid-19 patients, laboratory employees who handled samples for Covid-19 testing and morgue employees who may conduct autopsies on bodies of people who have died from Covid-19. 
  • High exposure risk occupations: These are health delivery and support workers such as porters and ambulance personnel who may come into contact with Covid-19 positive patients, and mortuary workers who may be involved in the burial and cremation of coronavirus victims.
  • Medium exposure risk occupations: These are positions where people may be close to those who potentially have the virus or come from international high risk areas or where there are ongoing community transmissions. People in this category include those who work in schools, airports, labour centres, retail centres, consulting rooms and so on.
  • Low exposure risk occupations: These are positions where people do not need to have contact with other people, whether known or suspected to have the virus. Employees in this category have minimal occupational contact with the public and their colleagues.

Compensation shall be given according to how the person has been affected by the virus.

“Assessment of permanent impairment shall be determined within three months after diagnosis and when maximum medical improvement has been reached,” the department said. “The degree of impairment will be evaluated based on the medical complications of the Covid-19 from the affected body systems.

“Where there are medical complications, additional tests required to assess the presence of abnormalities present in the cardio-respiratory system and other organ systems affected by Covid-19 must also be provided.”

For those who are temporarily deemed unfit to work because of Covid, “payment for temporary total disablement ... shall be made for as long as such disablement continues,  but not for a period exceeding 30 days,” the labour department said.

“In an instance where there are medical complications, the commissioner has a right to review each case on merit.”

The fund, however, would not pay out for people who have unconfirmed cases or for those who are in self-isolation or self-quarantine because of suspected exposure.

Employees who contract the virus at work are also eligible to medical aid for 30 days.

In the event of the death of an employee exposed to the virus while at work, a claim can be put in for “reasonable burial expenses”.

Claims that are submitted need to be accompanied by:

  • An employer report of an occupational disease
  • Notice of an occupational disease and claim for compensation
  • Exposure and medical questionnaire
  • A medical report in respect of the occupational disease
  • Exposure history, which may include any vital information that could aid the commissioner in making a decision.
  • A medical report which includes the test results for Covid-19 and chest radiographs where possible
  • A progress medical report for each consultation
  • A final medical report if the three-month maximum medical improvement period has been reached
  • An affidavit by the employee if the employer cannot be traced or will not timeously submit an employer report on the occupational disease.

Claims can be submitted electronically or manually.

Where to submit claims for the labour department's compensation fund.
Image: Government Gazette Where to submit claims for the labour department's compensation fund.