Complete guide to workers compensation in Western Australia
In WA, employers are required to take out workers compensation policies to protect their workers, including family members. A worker is generally defined as anyone who performs business-related tasks for you, regardless of whether the job is directly or indirectly related to your business.
Contractors also count as workers when hired to perform tasks related to your business, even if they are already covered by other workers compensation policies. Read more about when contractors need cover here.
The WA workers compensation scheme is privately managed. This means you will get different rates from different insurers. There are currently eight approved insurance providers.
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When do contractors need workers compensation?
Contractors also count as workers, and you will need to cover them when they are hired to help you with your own business activities. For example, a farmer who hires a fencer will need to cover them with workers compensation because fencing is part of their business needs, and that fencer is doing tasks that might be done by an official employee.
Just because a contractor is already covered by workers compensation does not mean you don’t need to cover them as well. Subcontractors might be covered by two or more separate workers compensation policies.
When there is a chain of employers (ie, principal > contractor > subcontractor > sub-subcontractor), each person in the chain must provide workers compensation to everyone below them.
- The contractor is covered by the principal
- The subcontractor is covered by the principal and the contractor
- The sub-subcontractor (hired by the subcontractor) is covered by the principal, the contractor and the subcontractor.
Here, the sub-subcontractor is covered by three separate workers compensation policies and, depending on where liability lies and the nature of the accident, may claim benefits from any one of them. This does not mean sub-contractors are eligible for any more benefits than they would get if they were only covered by one policy.
Workers compensation rates in WA
Insurers in WA are free to set their own premiums in line with the WA industry premium rates. These costs are determined by the chance of injury faced by workers in different industries. Workers compensation rates are also affected by factors including, but not limited to, your total annual remuneration paid to all workers and your previous workplace safety and claims history. Insurers may charge up to a 75% surcharge based on your risk profile, or more with special approval.
- Predicted wages. At the start of each policy period, you predict your wages paid and premiums are adjusted based on actual wages paid at the end of each policy period. The difference needs to be paid to you or the insurer as applicable.
- What counts as wages? Wages include all salaries, commissions, bonuses, overtime, allowances and other pre-tax benefits paid to workers. It does not include termination, retirement and retrenchment payments, pensions or compulsory superannuation contributions.
- I disagree with my premium rates. If you disagree with the premium rates set by your insurer, you can appeal within one month of being informed of them. You are still required to keep paying premiums even if you intend to appeal, and if successful can get the difference refunded.
What benefits are covered?
In Western Australia, insurers will often settle workers compensation claims. This is a finalisation of terms and means injured workers will be awarded an agreed upon lump sum, but will no longer be able to claim any other benefits and, in most cases, will not be able to pursue common law damages. This means they cannot sue their employer for negligence. In WA, permanent disability and other grievous losses are expected to be covered by these settlements and are not necessarily part of the core benefits paid by workers compensation policies.
Prior to settling a claim, injured workers may receive the following:
- Compensation for loss of earnings. Depending on the nature of the injured worker’s employment and other factors, they may be entitled to varying weekly benefit payments to compensate them for loss of earnings.
- Medical benefits. Much like Medicare, WA workers compensation can pay set medical benefits. These are readjusted annually. Workers compensation in WA does not necessarily pay the full cost of required medical treatments. You may be left with out-of-pocket expenses if your practitioner costs more than the medical benefits payable. The limits are generally reasonable enough to ensure effective treatment, however. Approved therapies and rehabilitations, such as physiotherapy and specialist treatments, are covered.
- Workplace rehabilitation. If a workplace requires modifications, or an injured worker required assistance to return to the job, workplace rehabilitation benefits may help cover the costs.
- Travel expenses. Reasonable travel expenses can be claimed for trips to and from medical and rehabilitation facilities. Injured workers who live in regional areas may also claim accommodation and reasonable meal expenses.
- Permanent impairment. Other benefits, including lump sum and ongoing compensation payments, may be awarded to permanently disabled or impaired workers. Compensation can be awarded for both physical and psychological injuries.
The benefits available are reassessed annually.
Your obligations as an employer
In the event of a workplace injury, you should do the following:
- Ensure the worker immediately receives appropriate first aid and that the incident is reported to your insurer.
- More serious incidents will require you to notify WorkSafe WA as well. Make sure the injured worker seeks appropriate medical treatment with a practitioner of their choice.
- Maintain written systems. You need to maintain a written injury management system that lays out the steps to be followed in the event of a workplace accident. You are also required to work with injured employees to develop a written return-to-work program. You may ask your insurer for help with creating and maintaining these systems, but they are not necessarily obligated to do so.
- Pass claims onto your insurer. If a worker makes a claim, and provides a completed claims form to you, you have five working days to pass this onto your insurer. Make copies and keep one for your own records and give one to the injured worker.
- Work with your insurer. Take full advantage of the services offered by your insurer, and consider setting up regular meetings for feedback on safety performance. Expect regular communication from your insurer regarding the outcomes of any disputes or claims made, policy renewal dates and other information.
- Consider using a broker. Unlike in other states, insurers in WA are not necessarily obligated to provide additional services or assistance other than paying claims, making settlements and handling similar issues. Instead, this is left to specialised insurance brokers. For help staying up to date on legislation changes and making sure you have fulfilled your legal obligations as an employer, consider using an insurance broker.
For specific questions about your obligations as an employer, including remuneration cut-off requirements and other questions about whether you are required to take out a workers compensation policy, call the WorkCover WA advice and assistance line on 1300 794 744
What else do I need to know about workers compensation in WA?
Do I need to cover workers over the age of 65?
Yes. All age-based restrictions on entitlements were removed in 2011.
Do working directors need workers compensation policies?
Working company directors are directors whose earnings are derived from work they personally do on behalf of the company. A company may choose not to take out workers compensation policies for working directors, but can if it wants to.
Can I fire an injured worker?
Yes, but only if it is not reasonably practicable to put them back to their pre-injury employment or find them alternative work. If you cannot do either of these, you are required to maintain their employment for at least 12 months from the date of injury.
Do I have to keep paying an injured worker?
Yes. You are required to pay them on time, as usual, payslip and all. If you think you will be unable to afford this, you can contact your insurer to examine alternate arrangements. They may offer a financing plan or other arrangements. If you cannot reach an agreement with your insurer, you can contact WorkCover WA’s assistance line on 1300 794 744.
Are there any ways I can reduce costs?
If a worker has been injured, you may offer them saved vacation time or paid sick leave instead of workers compensation benefits. You must make it clear that such payments are not a form of workers compensation and that they may choose to claim weekly benefits from workers compensation instead.
I’m self-employed. Can I take out a workers compensation policy on myself?
No, unless you qualify as a working director of a company.
Are avoidance arrangements legal?
No. Avoidance arrangements are technicalities that might exclude you from workers compensation obligations. Examples include asking workers to sign a contract waiving their right to workers compensation cover or requiring individuals to incorporate (form a company) to escape your workers compensation obligations. These may not necessarily be illegal in themselves, but failing to take out workers compensation cover is.
What are the penalties for failing to have workers compensation cover?
They vary depending on the circumstances. WorkCover WA keeps a running list of employers that have been prosecuted for failing to meet their obligations and the penalties they have incurred.
Do I need to cover unpaid workers?
No. You only need to cover paid employees.
How soon do I have to take out a workers compensation policy after hiring someone?
You have 14 days
I have a specific question. Who do I call?
Call the WorkCover WA assistance line on 1300 794 744 or submit an electronic enquiry.