Tag Archives: COVID-19 workers comp

Legislatures Advance
COVID-19-related Bills

As states struggle to identify the best ways to reopen their economies, agencies, and schools from the coronavirus-related lockdown, legislatures have been moving forward legislation to protect them and the people they employ.

Virginia Approves Worker Health & Safety Standard

The Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) – the state’s version of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – will enforce a standard that mandates and, in some instances, exceeds guidance issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and OSHA, PropertyCasualty360.com reports.

The standard protects employees who raise reasonable concerns about infection control to print, online, social, or other media. It covers most private employers in Virginia, as well as all state and local employees.

The standard also requires building and facility owners to report positive COVID-19 tests to employer tenants. It exempts private and public institutions of higher education with reopening plans certified by the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) and public-school divisions that submit reopening plans to the Virginia Department of Education. No such exemptions are provided to private elementary and secondary schools.

In addition to CDC and OSHA guidelines, the standard requires employers to:

  • Provide flexible sick-leave policies, telework, and staggered shifts when feasible;
  • Provide handwashing stations and hand sanitizer when feasible;
  • Assess risk levels of employers and suppliers before entry;
  • Notify the Virginia Department of Health of positive COVID-19 tests;
  • Notify VOSH of three or more positive COVID-19 tests within a two-week period;
  • Assess hazard levels of all job tasks;
  • Provide COVID-19 training of all employees within 30 days (except for low-hazard places of employment);
  • Prepare infectious disease preparedness and response plans within 60 days;
  • Post or present agency-prepared COVID-19 information to all employees; and
  • Maintain air handling systems in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standards.

Special Legislative Session for Tennessee Liability Bill

Weeks after Tennessee’s two legislative chambers failed to come to an agreement on legislation surrounding civil liability for coronavirus, Gov. Bill Lee called the state’s General Assembly to return next week for a special session, The Tennessean reports.

Lee issued an order asking members of the legislature to return to Nashville at 4 p.m. on Aug. 10 to take up the matter, which would extend broad immunity to businesses, schools, and other entities against COVID-19-related lawsuits.

The General Assembly also is expected to take up two other bills it failed to pass before adjourning in June. One would expand medical professionals’ ability to offer telehealth services and encourage insurers to cover those costs. The other would increase penalties for protesters camping and engaging in vandalism at the Capitol. A group of protesters has remained across the street from the Capitol for more than 50 days, resulting in the arrest of some for trespassing and writing messages in chalk.

Nevada Senators Advance Liability Shield Measure

State senators in Nevada, by an overwhelming majority, advanced legislation that would extend COVID-19 liability protections to businesses, nonprofits, schools, and governmental agencies and outlining several measures intended to protect hospitality workers, The Las Vegas Sun reports.

The legislation would extend COVID-19 liability protections to many entities that have “substantially complied with controlling health standards.” Provisions of the bill would sunset either upon the termination of the current state of emergency or in July 2023.

The measure wouldn’t extend to most private health care providers.

“Unease with the bill’s focus on the tourism and gaming industry crossed party lines,” the Sun writes. “Sen. Marcia Washington, D-North Las Vegas, said she was concerned why the bill singled out hospitality workers: ‘I’m here to represent, as far as I’m concerned, everybody, all the workers in the state of Nevada,’ Washington said.”

Marie Neisess, president of the Clark County Education Association, said the bill did nothing to help teachers going back into the classroom this year.

“Even with the best safety measures in place, educators and students will still be at risk,” Neisses said. Putting a bill in place that protects the employer rather than the employee is unacceptable.”

The bill now advances to the Senate floor for final action as lawmakers continue to meet in special session.

“Rebuttable Presumption” for Essential Workers Goes to N.J. Governor

New Jersey may become the next state to enact a law presuming that essential workers who acquire COVID-19 did so on the job, Business Insurance reports.

Lawmakers in the New Jersey Assembly and Senate on Thursday passed S.B. 2380 with a 42-27 vote in the Assembly and a 27-12 vote in the Senate. The bill, introduced in early May, would create a rebuttable presumption for essential workers seeking workers compensation for acquiring COVID-19 on the job during a declared state of emergency.

The bill identifies essential employees as those whose duties are considered essential during an emergency response and recovery operation; public or private sector employees whose duties are essential to the public’s health, safety, and welfare; emergency responders and workers at health-care facilities and those performing jobs that support a health-care facility, such as laundry, research, and hospital food service.

The bill moves to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk. If signed into law, the legislation would take effect immediately and be retroactive to March 9. According to Business Insurance, a spokeswoman for Gov. Murphy declined to comment on whether he intended to sign the legislation.

COVID-19 and Workers Compensation: Impact Will Become Clearer … Eventually

By John Novaria

The impact of COVID-19 on workers compensation will come down to several fundamental questions in the coming months: Who’s at work? Who’s going back to work? And under what circumstances?

Experts addressed these questions during a webcast jointly sponsored by Triple-I and the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI). The discussion was moderated by Mark Friedlander, director of corporate communications, Triple-I.

While they agreed it’s too early to know all of the impacts of the virus on workers compensation, several important themes are emerging.

Sean Cooper, practice leader and senior actuary, NCCI, said the economy has experienced sudden job losses, compared to the Great Recession of 2008-09, when they were spread out over a period of time, and the nature of those jobs is much different.

“Back then you saw construction and manufacturing impacted greatly, while this time it’s hospitality, leisure and travel,” he said.

Cooper explained some of the varying impacts of COVID-19 on overall workers compensation claims: while COVID-19 claims will have an upward influence on claims, social distancing could put downward pressure on frequency. He also noted telehealth could put downward pressure on the cost of claims.

NCCI files rates and loss costs for every job classification in 38 states, and submits those to regulators for approval in each state. The organization has taken several actions and made several changes to reflect COVID-19.

“We began collecting payroll for furloughed workers so that payroll wouldn’t be used in premium calculations,” said Jeff Eddinger, senior division executive, NCCI. “We are also tracking legislation in each state that affects compensability presumptions.”

Triple-I chief economist Dr. Steven Weisbart pointed out that the last recession was a lengthy one – lasting 19 months – and this one in contrast is unique because it largely depends on a virus and society’s ability to successfully combat it.

Weisbart said he believes the nation will emerge from this pandemic with a different type of economy.

“Telecommuting will be one of the new norms,” he said. “People are recognizing they can do most jobs at home, and companies don’t have the expense of renting office space.”

Weisbart also thinks there will be some additional conversion to robotics and machine jobs, and the number of jobs performed by people may well shrink. He says these types of changes in the workplace will make some difference over time in the types of jobs available and skills required.

Until now, few would have considered a pandemic a likely workers compensation catastrophe. Eddinger noted that traditional methods for calculating the impacts don’t work for low frequency, high severity events.

“NCCI has engaged a modeling firm to evaluate if a pandemic catastrophe provision would be appropriate for future rate filings,” he said. “After 9/11 we applied terrorism models in all 38 of our states, but that was more straightforward because compensability applied to all workers; if you were at work during an event you were covered.”

Watch the highlights: Webcast Highlights Video

Watch the full webcast: Impact of COVID-19 on Workers Compensation Insurance

Additional Resources: 

Media Coverage:

Wrap-up: COVID-19
and Workers Comp

Lauded for their service and hailed as heroes, essential workers who become infected with the coronavirus on the job have no guarantee in most states that they’ll qualify for workers compensation to cover lost wages and medical care, Associated Press reports

Fewer than one-third of the states have enacted policies that shift the burden of proof for coverage of job-related COVID-19 so workers like first responders and nurses don’t have to show they got sick by reporting for a risky assignment. 

And for most employees going back to job sites as the economy reopens, there’s even less protection than for essential workers. In nearly all states, they have to prove they got the virus on the job to qualify for workers comp. 

Workers comp is not health insurance, or an unemployment benefit. In exchange for coverage, workers give up the right to sue their employers for job-related harms. Employers pay premiums to support the system. Complex rules differ from state to state. 

Dealing with job-related injuries is fairly straightforward, but diseases have always been trickier for workers’ comp, and COVID-19 seems to be in a class of its own. 

“You don’t know per se where you inhaled that breath whereby you became infected,” said Bill Smith, president of the Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group, a professional association of lawyers representing workers.  

Read more: 

Families of health workers killed by COVID-19 fight for denied workers comp benefits (Philadelphia Inquirer, July 16, 2020) 

Workers comp in the new world of the COVID-19 pandemic (Law.com, July 16, 2020) 

Report: Sharp drop in California workers’ comp premiums expected from COVID-19 (Insurance Journal, July 14, 2020) 

Workers Comp, Liability Next Up for Virus-Related Insurance Disputes

Coronavirus-related insurance litigation is likely to move beyond business interruption coverage and into workers comp and general liability policy lines as states begin to lift restrictions on economic activity.

“There’s just going to be a bloodbath of litigation over the next 10 years,” former Mississippi Attorney General and counsel at  Weisbrod Matteis & Copley Jim Hood told Bloomberg Law this week. “Even if the governor tells you to open up, that’s not going to protect you from a lawsuit.”

The Trump administration and Republican lawmakers are insisting that an employer liability shield be included in the next round of pandemic relief legislation, but it’s unclear whether Democrats will go along with the idea.

Ask the Experts: The Impact of COVID-19 on Workers Compensation (Property/Casualty 360, May 7, 2020)

Bill to Boost Aid to Dependents of Workers Killed by COVID-19 (Business Insurance, May 6, 2020)

Workplace Testing Guide May Provide Target for Lawsuits (Business Insurance, May 5, 2020)

A Better Workers’ Comp System:  Silver Lining of COVID-19? (Property/Casualty 360, May 1, 2020)

California Facilitates Workers Comp for Virus Claims

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday that will make it easier for essential workers who contract COVID-19 to obtain workers’ compensations benefits. The governor said the order streamlines workers’ comp claims and establishes a rebuttable presumption that any essential workers infected with COVID-19 contracted the virus on the job. In effect, the change shifts the burden of proof that typically falls on workers and instead requires companies or insurers to prove that the employees didn’t get sick at work.

The California Federation of Labor, which asked for the change in a March 27 letter to the governor and legislative leaders, applauded the order. Dozens of business groups, led by the California Chamber of Commerce, pushed back last month on the labor federation’s request, saying the changes would force businesses to be the “safety net to mitigate the unprecedented outcomes of this natural disaster and the government’s response.”

Executive Order Threatens Stability of California Workers Compensation System (American Property Casualty Insurance Association press release, May 6, 2020)

California to Give Workers Comp to All Essential Employees Infected With Coronavirus (The Hill, May 6, 2020)

NCCI: Workers Comp Costs and COVID-19

If only 10 percent of health care workers contract COVID-19 and all of their claims are deemed compensable, workers’ compensation loss costs for that sector could double or even triple in some states, according to an analysis by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI).

Claims Journal reports that, in NCCI’s worst-case scenario, 50 percent of workers are infected and 60 percent of their claims are deemed compensable. That would result in $81.5 billion in increased costs —or two and half times current workers’ compensation loss costs — for the 38 states and District of Columbia, where NCCI tracks claims data. If eligibility is limited to first responders and healthcare workers and only 5 percent of those workers are infected, Claims Journal says, the increase in costs would be just $2 billion, assuming 60 percent of claims are paid.

From the Triple-I Blog:

ECONOMY STARTS REOPENING AMID NEW PANDEMIC PROJECTIONS

 

 

FAQs about COVID-19’s Impact on Workers’ Comp

Dr. John W. Ruser, President and CEO of the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI), contributed this Q&A about the role workers’ compensation insurance plays in the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. John Ruser

During this pandemic, many workers (nurses, police, grocery store clerks, transit professionals, etc.) are considered essential, potentially putting them at heightened risk for contracting COVID-19. A key question, of course, is whether a worker who contracts COVID-19 is compensated under workers’ compensation for income loss and medical expenses.

Below are some frequently asked questions that get posed to me as president and CEO of the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI), which is an independent, not-for-profit research organization that provides high-quality, objective research and statistical information about public policy issues involving the various state workers’ compensation insurance systems in the United States.

Q1: Is COVID-19 covered under workers’ compensation and if not, why not?

A1: Historically, communicable diseases, like the flu, have generally not been covered.  Workers’ compensation covers injuries and illnesses that arise out of and in the course of employment. It is generally difficult to establish work-relationship for a disease that could be contracted anywhere. Indeed, some states’ statutes bar compensation for communicable diseases. In the past few weeks, though, a number of states have taken steps to expand workers’ compensation coverage to include COVID-19 for certain groups of workers.

Q2: What is the course of action for states seeking to cover essential workers impacted by COVID-19?

A2: Some states consider that their current laws, regulations and procedures are sufficient to provide compensation for workers who demonstrate that they contracted COVID-19 at work. Other states have changed their rules, either by executive order or by legislation, to increase the likelihood that a worker who contracts COVID-19 may be eligible for workers ’ compensation. The states vary in terms of the scope of workers covered and in terms of the burden of proof required by an ill worker to establish work-relatedness. A number of states’ laws and orders cover only first responders or health care workers. Others expand coverage to include other groups of workers deemed to be essential, e.g., grocery workers. In some states, the worker may be eligible for workers’ compensation if they can demonstrate that their illness was the result of their employment or occupation. In other states, for the workers covered, there is a presumption that their illness arose from work, though that presumption can be rebutted.

Q3: Is this is the first time coverage has been expanded for conditions that may arise outside of work and how are workers’ compensation laws changed?

A3: No, for example, we have seen workers’ compensation coverage expanded to include those, particularly first responders, who witness a traumatic experience and as a result have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can no longer perform their duties.

Q4: Is workers’ compensation administered at the state or federal level?

A4: Individuals injured on the job while employed by private companies or state and local government agencies are covered by workers’ compensation programs administered by the states. The essential features of the states’ workers’ compensation systems are similar, but they may vary in terms of the compensability of some conditions, the amount of benefits paid and other features. Federal and some other workers are covered by four disability compensation programs administered by the US Department of Labor.

Q5: What does workers’ compensation cover and are the benefits across the country the same?

A5: Workers’ compensation covers all medical benefits and wages lost while off work due to the injury. It covers the first dollar of medical care and there are statutory formulas for the income benefits that replace lost wages. WCRI’s workers’ compensation laws reports are a great resource to identify the similarities and differences across workers’ compensation systems in U.S. states and Canadian provinces.

Q6: Is WCRI working on any research that will help us better understand the impact of COVID-19 on state workers’ compensation systems?

A6: WCRI has a wealth of studies that provide a pre-COVID baseline for evaluating the impact of the virus on workers’ compensation claims. This includes WCRI’s CompScope™ Benchmarks studies, which compare a range of workers’ compensation performance metrics across 18 states. In the future, we will evaluate the impact of the virus on the composition of claims and their costs, how the virus may have affected the delivery of care to injured workers and the impact of that on worker and claims outcomes, including duration of disability.

Mixed Reactions
To Workers Comp
COVID-19 Expansions

State workers’ compensation boards around the country are amending rules for benefits payouts related to coronavirus, and several states have expanded or are considering widening access to workers comp coverage for COVID-19 beyond first responders and health care workers.

Kentucky and Illinois this week implemented emergency orders to provide access to public-facing essential workers, such as grocery, pharmacy, Postal Service and day care workers. And Minnesota’s legislature unanimously approved a bill that guarantees people in high-risk jobs who contract COVID-19 workers comp coverage without having to prove the infection was a direct result of their job. Most licensed peace officers, firefighters, paramedics, nurses, health care workers, correction officers, workers at secure state facilities, workers at long-term care facilities, and child-care providers are among the classes included in the Minnesota measure.

Lawmakers in Louisiana and New Jersey also have proposed legislation to expand COVID-19 coverage beyond first responders and health care workers, who traditionally are covered if they are exposed to a communicable disease in the course of their work.

While employee groups and unions applaud these moves, the changes could hurt the workers comp industry, some experts warn.

Robert Hartwig, clinical associate professor and director of the Risk and Uncertainty Management Center at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, said the changes present “a potentially enormous and unfair burden on workers compensation insurers that’s completely unprecedented in history.”

Hartwig pointed to the difficulty proving that the transfer of a communicable disease occurred on the job and added, “This is potentially extraordinarily costly to workers comp insurers, but also to many large employers who have either very high-deductible programs or are largely self-insured.”

He said these changes also could be “potentially catastrophic” to workers compensation state funds.

Workers Comp
Premiums Could Soar
With COVID-19 Claims

Health-care workers and emergency responders will benefit from rules eased in some states around workers’ compensation that will allow them to collect benefits if they can prove they caught Covid-19 on the job, Bloomberg reports.

But employers need to be aware of the changing rules and be prepared for the likely end result—skyrocketing premiums.

State workers’ compensation boards around the country are amending rules for benefits payouts to include health-care workers exposed to the virus and then quarantined. Attorneys are keeping a close eye on the questions, such as who should be eligible to receive benefits, how does a worker prove they caught Covid-19 on the job, and how will an influx of successful claims affect businesses’ premiums to insurance carriers.

Some say essential workers like grocery store employees and delivery workers also should qualify.

Related:

Advisen: COVID-19 prompts a host of questions for workers compensation cover

Will Workers Comp Claims for COVID-19 Be Paid?


While health workers and first responders might be more likely to be exposed, whether COVID-19 is compensable under workers comp is uncertain.

Whether workers compensation claims related to COVID-19 will be paid is a question to be answered case by case and state by state.

The world has seen numerous epidemics whose impact on public health is well documented, so you might expect to find guidance on compensability from these experiences. But according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), “You would be hard pressed to find meaningful information on how or even if the workers compensation system was affected” by the SARS, H1N1, Ebola, and Zika outbreaks.

Workers comp insurance typically covers employers for employee claims regarding “bodily injury by accident or bodily injury by disease.” Many state statutes, however, exclude “ordinary disease of life.”

While some occupations – for example, health care workers and first responders – might be said to have a higher probability than others for exposure to COVID-19, whether the disease is compensable under workers comp is uncertain.

“’Would time away from work during recovery be considered ‘temporary disability’,”’ NCCI asks, “or is it just normal ‘sick time’?”

Guaranteed benefits for some

Workers’ comp insurers in at least two states have said they will guarantee benefits for health workers and first responders.

Kentucky Employers Mutual Insurance Co. said it will pay wage-replacement benefits for any first responder or employee in the medical field who is quarantined because of direct exposure to a person diagnosed with COVID-19. The announcement follows a decision by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries to pay wage-loss and medical treatment expenses for any health care worker or first responder who is quarantined because of coronavirus exposure. Washington operates a monopoly workers comp system, so that policy affects every employee covered by the state system.

It remains to be seen if other states will take the same measures relative to workers comp. For general health insurance, however, NCCI says at least 10 states have issued mandates to cover COVID-19. The mandates vary, but they include coverage for testing and visits to emergency rooms or urgent care facilities either in-network or out-of-network without deductibles or copays.

If expanded to more states, NCCI says, these mandates could limit workers comp claims in cases where only testing or quarantine are necessary.