On 23 April 2020, the President of South Africa announced that the lockdown would be relaxed, with some industries being permitted to return to work, subject to extreme precautions being taken to limit community transmission and outbreaks of the infection. Specified business will be permitted to operate under strict parameters, including:
- preparing the workspace for return to operation;
- an adherence to detailed health and safety protocols to protect employees and prevent the spread of infection; and
- by only allowing employees to return to work in batches of no more than one-third of the workforce.
Despite these measures, there remains a risk of an increase in occupationally acquired COVID-19 in the workplace. The question that then arises is ‘how does an employer deal with occupationally acquired COVID-19?’
On 20 March 2020, the Compensation Commissioner issued a Notice on Compensation for Occupationally-Acquired Novel Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19). The Notice came into effect on 20 March 2020 and recognises occupationally acquired COVID-19 as a disease under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Disease Act (COIDA). The Notice provides for diagnosis and risk; benefits; and reporting.
Diagnosis and Risk
A diagnosis of occupationally acquired COVID-19 relies on:
- occupational exposure to a known source of COVID-19;
- a reliable diagnosis of COVID-19 as per the WHO guidelines;
- an approved official trip and travel history to countries and/or areas of high risk for COVID-19 on work assignment;
- a presumed high-risk work environment where transmission of COVID-19 is inherently prevalent; or
- a chronological sequence between the work exposure and the development of symptoms.
In circumstances where there is a suspected, unconfirmed case of occupationally acquired COVID-19 and the employee is placed under self-quarantine on recommendation of a registered medical practitioner, the employer is liable for remuneration for the days of absence.
Anyone diagnosed with occupationally acquired COVID-19 may claim the temporary total disablement (TTD) benefit. When there is a confirmed case of occupationally acquired COVID-19 and where the Compensation Fund has accepted liability, TTD must be paid from the date of diagnosis, for as long as the disablement continues, but not for a period exceeding 30 days. In all accepted cases of such COVID-19, medical aid must be provided for a period of not more than 30 days. The period may be extended if the Director General is of the opinion that it will reduce disablement.
In the event of death arising from occupationally acquired COVID-19, the Commission must compensate the reasonable burial expenses and provide the widow’s and dependent’s pensions, where applicable.
Reporting and claims processing
On reporting occupationally acquired COVID-19, the Compensation Commission must be furnished with:
- The employer’s report of an occupational disease;
- Notice of an occupational disease and claim for compensation;
- Exposure and medical questionnaire;
- First medical report in respect of an occupational disease, indicating that the claim is for a code ICD-10 (COVID-19);
- Exposure history and/or another appropriate employment history containing information that may be helpful to the Compensation Commissioner;
- A medical report on the employee’s symptoms, detailing the history and establishing the diagnosis of COVID-19, laboratory results and chest X-Rays, where appropriate, or any other information relevant to the claim;
- Progress medical reports in respect of each consultation;
- Final medical report when the employee’s condition has reached maximum medical improvement;
- An affidavit by the employee if the employer cannot be traced or will not timeously supply the report of the occupational disease, where applicable.
Online claims should be submitted to the Compensation Fund (COVID19claims@labour.gov.za); Rand Mutual Assurance (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Federated Employers Mutual (FEM-Registry@fema.co.za). The claim must reference the ICD-10 code – U07.1. On processing the claim, the medical officers in the Compensation Commissioner’s office are responsible for the assessment of the claim and will confirm the acceptance or rejection of the claim.