In 2021, Australia had more than 2.5 million casual workers, which is about 20% of the workforce. Some industries have more casual workers than others – most work in hospitality, retail, and health. More than 80% of casuals work in small to medium businesses.
Casual employees often work in temporary or contract roles and their work hours can vary from week to week. Therefore, they’re not usually entitled to many of the benefits that full-time and part-time employees receive, such as sick pay or recreational leave.
However, they are entitled to worker’s compensation payments if they get injured or become ill as a result of doing their job.
Unfortunately, many casual employees in Queensland aren’t sure whether they can apply for worker’s compensation. So, in this article, we’ll clarify these rights for casual employees.
If you want to know more, you can contact us at Main Lawyers for a discussion about whether you’re entitled to a payout if you’re injured at work.
What is workers compensation?
In Australia, employers must have workers compensation insurance (known as WorkCover in Queensland), which provides payments to employees who get injured or sick because of their work.
These payments cover:
- lost wages while you can’t work (weekly payments)
- medical and rehabilitation costs
- permanent injury or delayed injuries
- funeral costs (if a worker has died).
If a worker is left permanently impaired due to their injury, they might also be entitled to a lump sum payment.
Workers compensation covers you when you’re:
- working at the business premises
- working from home
- on a scheduled break
- travelling to and from work
- travelling for work.
Does workers compensation cover casual employees?
Yes, absolutely! Every worker has the right to work in a safe and healthy environment, and be protected from employee negligence.
Workers compensation applies to casual employees, seasonal employees and commission-based workers. Some contractors and subcontractors might also be covered, depending on the situation.
You don’t have to work a minimum number of hours to be entitled to a workers compensation payout. You’re automatically eligible once you start working with your employer – being a casual doesn’t factor into it.
Additionally, you don’t have to have worked in the job for a minimum amount of time before you’re covered – you’re eligible for WorkCover from the moment you start work.
Your employer’s responsibility
Your employer has a duty of care to provide a safe and healthy work environment for all staff, including casual staff.
When you’re first hired, your employer must assess your needs and skills to see if you have any special needs.
They must also provide:
- adequate training for the job
- information about safe work procedures
- supervision to ensure you can do the job safely.
They must also have adequate workers compensation cover. Under Queensland law, an employer has five days to insure a new worker or risk a hefty fine.
The problems of being casual
The nature of casual work can actually put casual employees at extra risk of injury from health and safety issues.
For example, you might not be on shift when important information about risk and safety procedures is provided to staff. If any changes in work processes occur, including new equipment, you must receive the information you need to stay safe in your work.
Another problem is that casuals may forget important safety advice if they don’t work many hours. They need refresher training to keep this advice top of mind.
Shift work and extended working hours can also put casuals at extra risk of injury. Fatigue is a real problem for shift workers. So employees need to monitor working hours to keep shift workers safe.
If they fail in their duty to casual workers, injuries can easily happen.
Why casuals don’t claim workers compensation
Unfortunately, many casual workers who are injured at work don’t make a workers compensation claim because they don’t know their rights or event that they’re eligible for a payout.
Even worse, they’re worried they will lose hours or even their job if they do. But it’s actually illegal for an employer to dismiss or discriminate against anyone who submits a WorkCover claim.
So it’s essential that casual workers know that they have the same legal rights as any other employee.
If you don’t report your injury and it gets worse, you may not be able to claim medical expenses and income payouts down the track. There are time limits on claims, so you shouldn’t wait – your family’s welfare and your own health could be at stake.
What to do if you’re injured at work
If you’re injured in your casual job, you may be eligible for benefits while you recover, including:
- weekly payments
- medical, hospital and rehabilitation expenses
- lump sum payment for any permanent impairment due to the injury.
Here are some tips on how to start the process:
- First get medical help as quickly as possible. Go to your own doctor rather than one that your employer sends you to. Tell your doctor how the injury happened so there is a record.
- Tell your employer in writing that the injury has occurred and how it happened. It’s important to report all injuries – even small ones – in case your condition gets worse later on. (Also, your employer needs to assess the risk of this injury happening to someone else and make changes to prevent it.)
- If you have a workplace health and safety (WHS) representative and/or union representative, tell them about your injury as well.
- Lodge a claim for workers compensation. As this process can be complex, depending the situation, consider contacting a workers compensation lawyer to find out your rights and how to get everything you’re entitled to.
If your employer doesn’t have WorkCover
If you do get injured and your boss doesn’t have workers compensation, you can still make a claim. They will still be required to pay compensation.
In the first instance, WorkCover will handle your payout. Then WorkCover will recover the money from your employer and possibly charge them a penalty as well.
If you feel intimidated
It is illegal for a manager or employer to intimidate or threaten any employee who tries to submit a workers compensation claim or record a workplace injury. In fact, they can be prosecuted for this behaviour.
If you feel your employer is behaving this way, contact WorkCover for advice immediately.
You should also consider speaking to a WorkCover lawyer to learn more about your rights and get advice on how to deal with this situation.
How to calculate workers compensation for casuals
As a casual worker, the number of hours you work per week may vary. This means your compensation for lost income will be calculated differently than for part-time or full-time employees.
Your compensation will be based on the average number of hours you’ve worked per week over 12 months – or since you started working there if you haven’t been there for 12 months yet.
If you’ve worked for your employer less than 12 months, add up all the hours you’ve worked each week since you started and divide it by the number of weeks you’ve been there. This will give you the average weekly hours.
If you’ve worked for your employer for more than 12 months, you will calculate the average number of hours you’ve worked each week for the last 52 weeks.
In either situation, your compensation for loss of income is based on this amount. This will give you weekly payments for the time you need off work to recover from your injury.
Of course, you may also be eligible for payment for medical expenses, including rehabilitation, and any hired help you need around the home.
Permanent injury and common law payouts for casuals
If you have suffered a very serious injury that will prevent you ever returning to work, you can lodge a claim for a lump sum payment for a permanent impairment.
If your employer was negligent in their duty of care, which caused this permanent injury, you could also submit a common law claim for damages. This payment is usually larger than permanent impairment because it includes a range of factors like pain and suffering, and lost future earnings.
Both of these payouts are large, so employers will often fight hard against paying them. However, this is a very serious situation and you shouldn’t question your right to make this claim – you will need the money to support your family and pay your bills.
For that reason, we strongly recommend contacting a qualified WorkCover lawyer like Main Lawyers to give you up-to-date advice and walk with you through the entire process. We will make sure you get everything you’re entitled to.
Getting professional help
As a casual worker, you may be at extra risk of injury, so you should be aware of your right to workers compensation if your employer breaches their duty of care.
At Main Lawyers, we give you access to very experienced workers compensation lawyers who will investigation your situation and tell you exactly what you’re entitled to.
And if you can’t come to our office, we’re happy to visit you at home, in hospital or another premises in Brisbane or on the Gold Coast. Contact us for a free, no-obligation chat.