WHSE Virtual RoundTable „Covid-19: Impact on Workers Comp and Mental Health; Wellbeing“

September 30, 2020

Covid-19: Impact on Workers Compensation and Mental Health & Wellbeing

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on workers across Australia as evidenced by a rapid shift to stay at or work from home, as well as record unemployment levels. As states begin to reopen, it is tempting to think that the worst may be over. Unfortunately, significant uncertainty remains around the long-term effects for organisations, including potential for continued cycles of infections and when/if employees can return to work safely. As a result, the virus will continue to challenge employers with regard to the mental health and wellbeing of employees and potential workers’ compensation claims.

Since starting our COVID-19 Virtual Roundtable series just a few months ago, we have been receiving many questions regarding how COVID-19 is impacting the WHSE landscape and how it is changing employee working arrangements, mental health & welling, and workers compensation. With daily changes in government restrictions, as well as changes to state and federal regulations, the question is what will be the full impact of COVID-19 on employee’s health and well-being and ultimately on workers compensation. And whilst many experts agree it’s too early to know all of the impacts, there are some important themes starting to emerge.

To discuss the impact of COVID-19 on workers compensation and mental health & wellbeing, Michele Beale, Head of Safety Frazer Jones Australia, invited four industry experts to join our WHSE COVID-19 Virtual Roundtable.

From the discussion we compiled the following key takeaways:-

How have businesses encouraged employees to take breaks and utilise annual leave to prevent burnout (even though no one wants to take annual leave right now because of lockdown)?

Encouraging staff to take time off throughout the year, and utilise the full extent of their allowance, can be as beneficial to employers as employees. Taking time off has a significant effect on employee stress levels, general health, productivity, and retention. However, employers are currently facing a conundrum: force workers with nowhere to go to take time off or deal with the fallout of burned out, depleted teams that have been working non-stop through the coronavirus lockdown.

What wellness programs have employers implemented to maintain employee mental health and to ensure staff don’t burn out?

Whilst the overwhelming majority of employers have always offered emotional and mental well-being supports as part of their wellness programs, COVID-19 has proven their full value now more than ever. The pandemic has created plenty of uncertainties beyond adjusting to new work arrangements, and resiliency efforts have proven pivotal in helping these workers navigate the stress related to COVID-19.

Given that managers and supervisors are the main connection of their people to the organisation, how have employers supported managers to engage in effective well-being conversations? And how are employers receiving this feedback from their managers?

Managers and supervisors play a critical role in supporting their employees’ safety, health, and well-being, more so now than ever before. They must set the tone and serve as a resource for all employees. While all employees need support, managers need to care for themselves first so that they can, in turn, care for others as well. It’s crucial for organisations to invest in an intentional culture of manager support that strongly encourages, enables and expects manager self-care. By example, this will instil healthier self-care in all employees across the organisation.

Injuries sustained whilst working from home. With much of the country now WFH, there is a greater degree of complexity associated with injuries sustained in the course of employment when employees are working variable hours that accommodate other commitments, such as home schooling. How are employers managing this? And are the Panel aware of any claims that have tested ‘out of or in the course of employment’?

While work from home arrangements have intrinsic challenges, the current COVID-19 social isolation measures add further difficulty, as many employees are now balancing working from home with childcare obligations or home-schooling. In general, injuries sustained by an employee during normal working hours, and during the actual performance of work activities while at home are compensable, however that doesn’t mean that the injury has to occur only between standard business hours to be covered.

If you are interested in being part of our conversation and/or would like to join one of our WHSE Virtual Roundtables, please get in touch with Michele Beale, Head of Safety Frazer Jones Australia.