This article forms part of the series “Contractors – Shifting Sands for Medical and Allied Health Practices

Workers in the allied health industry, such as nurses, doctors and other professionals may find themselves exposed to many different risks and hazards on a day-to-day basis, including lifting and moving patients and equipment; work-related stress; slips, trips and falls; exposure to infectious diseases and occupational violence.

As an employer, or person in control of a workplace, the operator of a medical practice in Victoria must generally comply with a series of duties and responsibilities relating to health and safety which differ slightly in respect of employees and contractors, including:

  • taking reasonable care (including through the implementation of appropriate policies and procedure) to minimise risks to health and safety to employees in the workplace;

  • ensuring individuals other than employees are not exposed to risks to their health and safety by the operation of the practice’s business undertaking;

  • providing employees with the necessary information, instruction, training and supervision to undertake their roles safely; and

  • complying with reporting obligations, such as reporting notifiable incidents to WorkSafe

Contractors and employee each have slightly different workplace rights and responsibilities in relation to occupational health and safety, but at the end of the day, what happens if an employee or contractor falls ill, or is injured at work?

Workers’ compensation insurance is compulsory for all employers in Victoria who pay, or expect to pay, more than a threshold level of rateable remuneration each financial year.  Insurance is mandatory, so that employees (and your practice) are protected against financial hardship as a result of workplace injuries and illnesses and so that employees can access return-to-work programs. 

Independent contractors that employ their own staff may be required to have their own worker’s compensation insurance policies, and the remuneration paid to a true independent contractor is typically not taken into account in calculating your “rateable remuneration” and associated insurance premiums.  However, individuals who are treated as independent contractors cannot take out workers compensation insurance to cover themselves, and it is not enough just to label someone an “independent contractor” to avoid having to account for them in your insurance cover, or to avoid liability to compensate them in the event they become ill, or are injured at work.   

All individuals who the common law considers to be your employees, as well as some independent contractors (and sometimes, their employees) who are deemed to be your workers for the purpose of Victorian workers’ compensation laws, will be entitled to seek compensation from you regardless of fault, if they are injured or fall ill in the course of working for your business.  The remuneration paid to all employees, as well as those contractors, must by law be taken into account in calculating and paying your worker’s compensation insurance premiums.  Every time you engage a worker, especially an individual, you should be considering whether or not you need to treat them as an employee, including for workers’ compensation purposes.  

If you fail to register for workers’ compensation insurance, or underestimate the remuneration your premiums must be based on, and one of your workers suffers an injury or illness at work, WorkSafe might still pay them compensation, but the costs of that compensation can be recovered from you, and you may also find yourself facing significant fines for failing to comply with your insurance obligations

 Next steps

Consider your current arrangements and review your practice structure.  We invite you to contact us with any questions.

Rod Payne
Principal
T: 03 5226 8541
E: rpayne@ha.legal

Paul Gray
Principal Lawyer
T: 03 5225 5231
E: pgray@ha.legal

Sonia McCabe
Senior Associate
T 03 5226 8558
E: smccabe@ha.legal

Harriet Burton
Associate
T: 03 5225 5215
E: hburton@ha.legal