Q: During this second wave of coronavirus outbreaks we have seen a noticeable increase in workers who have contracted the virus, and for the first time a member of my staff has died from it. As a business we have followed all the government guidelines and taken every precaution to ensure the safety of our staff, but I am worried about the possibility of us being held responsible if an employee contracts the virus at work. Could they or their family bring a claim against us for compensation?
A: Whether someone may be entitled to make a civil claim for compensation against their employer if they contract COVID-19 at work is currently under a great deal of discussion and the consensus is that it is possible. The Chief Coroner has advised coroners conducting inquests to be mindful that death from COVID-19 may be considered the result of human act or omission rather than simply ‘natural cause’. Bereavement payments being made to families of specific categories of workers who have died from coronavirus further underlines the connection between work and the risk of serious injury and death.
The deciding factor will be whether the injuries are deemed to be related to the employment or coincidental to the employment, as laid out in the regulations governing Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) awards. Currently the government’s list of ‘prescribed diseases’ eligible for IIDB does not include COVID-19. However, under secondary legislation the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council has recommended that it be classed as a prescribed disease.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to take reasonably practicable steps to safeguard the safety and health of their workers and assess all foreseeable risk. As COVID-19 has been a known risk since the start of 2020 all employers should have factored it into their risk assessments and taken necessary avoidance measures. Keeping fully documented trails of what actions you have taken is key.
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