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

businessman in panic. a young man sits at his Desk and holds his hands on his head.

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.”