Automatically blaming employers for COVID won’t stop the disease but will stop employment.
COSBOA notes that the South Australian Labor opposition is proposing a bill in the Legislative Council that intends to make employers automatically guilty of negligence if an employee contracts COVID-19. The Bill seeks to amend the Return to Work Act 2014 (SA), to reverse the onus of proof so that employees who are diagnosed with COVID-19 are presumed to have contracted the disease from their employment, unless their employer can prove otherwise.
The consequence is that employers would be immediately considered guilty of neglect unless they can prove their employee did not catch COVID-19 in the workplace, and in worse case, and tragic, instances they would potentially face charges of manslaughter.
Peter Strong, CEO of COSBOA, stated ‘we should be focused on doing our best to stop people catching the virus not waiting till they do and then charging someone. Doesn't existing OH and S legislation cover the requirements for a safe workplace? This approach seems unnecessary and frankly it is a waste of the everybodies time and energy to introduce additional responsibilities when we are fighting a virus. Is it in anyone's interest to shut hospitals and medical practices at this point of time, or impose additional risk on front line healthcare? If an employee in SA Labor’s administration office catches COVID who will be charged? Hopefully it will be the person who invented this legislation.”
Mr Strong added ‘it appears that SA Labor doesn’t understand what the word pandemic means. They seem to think that COVID-19 is something that hangs around in workplaces and no-where else. If the employee only works two or three days a week then it would be impossible to work out where they caught the virus. Given that anyone could be a COVID carrier, the only option for an employer is to close the business or potentially face manslaughter charges when an illness tragically results in death. What happens if the business owner catches the virus?”
Mr Strong also added “if this legislation is passed then our advice to businesses, large and small, is that it is too risky to employ people and they should close to avoid possible personal litigation and criminal charges. This is clearly in no one’s best interests.”
This legislation’s intention, to help workers who get Coronavirus, has the potential to cause more harm than good. One outcome will be a substantial increase in workers compensation costs as insurance companies cover their much higher risk. Will SA Labor pay that for businesses?