A Victorian aged care nurse has been fined $25,000 after working three casual shifts despite testing positive for COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic in 2020.
Kamaljeet Kaur Brar, 36, pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to take reasonable care to protect the health and safety of her patients and colleagues within her aged care facility at the Moorabbin Magistrates’ Court in Victoria on Wednesday.
She was the first individual to be charged by WorkSafe Victoria, in July of this year, due to breaching the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act.
Her conviction will not be recorded, but Magistrate David Starvaggi said there was a “flagrant and persistent disregard” for workplace safety measures at a time when the “world was changing beyond most peoples’ understanding” due to COVID-19.
“As we all know, tragically many people passed away as a fault of outbreaks of COVID in aged care facilities, amongst other care places,” Mr Starvaggi said.
“Fortunately, that did not occur in this particular instance.”
Mr Starvaggi added that Ms Brar’s actions needed to be condemned publicly to deter others from doing the same.
Ms Brar completed casual shifts on 26 and 27 July 2020, despite being told by her General Practitioner (GP) to isolate due to feeling feverish on the 26th.
Ms Brar tested for COVID-19 on 28 July via a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab, and her positive test result was returned on 30 July.
She returned to work on 2 August despite a resident also testing positive during her absence, but WorkSafe does not allege that Ms Brar caused the resident’s infection.
Ms Brar completed a mandatory staff temperature and declaration log prior to each shift stating that she had received a flu vaccine but was not experiencing any flu symptoms and was not a close contact with a known case.
The Court heard from Ms Brar’s lawyer, who said she “wasn’t thinking right” as she was under financial pressure because her husband – a landscape gardener – could not work due to the lockdown. She had also just discovered she was pregnant.
“It really seems she just continued on her routine going to work as she had been and didn’t make that fateful decision to stop,” he told the court.
Narelle Beer, Executive Director Health and Safety of Worksafe Victoria, said Ms Brar failed to take any reasonable care for her colleagues or the aged care residents.
“Every worker in Victoria has a duty to ensure their actions do not put the health and safety of others in their workplace at risk,” Dr Beer said.
“This includes cooperating with their employer’s efforts to control health and safety risks by following any instructions, policies and procedures and using supplied protective equipment.”
The facility where Ms Brar worked, Menarock LIFE Highett Aged Care, has been cleared of any wrongdoing.
Two other Victorian residential aged care providers, St Basil’s Homes for the Aged In Victoria and Heritage Care Pty Ltd, are still the focus of cases by WorkSafe Victoria after they were both charged for OHS breaches in July.
Both organisations were charged for poor management of COVID-19 cases and outbreaks, which saw a combined 342 COVID cases and 79 deaths from two outbreaks in 2020.
St Basil’s Homes for the Aged In Victoria and Heritage Care Pty Ltd face a maximum penalty of $1.49 million for each offence made – totalling $17.8 million combined. Both cases have appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, with no outcomes handed down yet.