How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected workers’ comp?
Several different factors have combined to change workers’ comp, but not necessarily in the way you might expect.
Workers’ comp cases have decreased dramatically. Since early March, claims for new injuries (not counting COVID-19 cases) have decreased by 25-50% across the US. Office workers are working from home, and many retail establishments and restaurants have been closed at least partially and may not have been able to fully reopen depending on the pandemic conditions in their area. Fewer people at work means fewer people able to be injured at work. Less crowded conditions may reduce accidents, but employers still need to make sure that the right number of workers are available to operate equipment safely. Workers’ comp insurance companies expect the cases to be about 20% lower in 2020.
COVID-19 Claim Costs
Across the country, most workers who get COVID-19 at work, such as grocery store employees or other essential workers, have smaller workers’ comp cases. These are asymptomatic or have more mild infections and so need less medical treatment, so their workers’ comp cases are only for a few thousand dollars. Under 5% of the cases have bills in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars—the types of cases that make the news.
COVID-19 Virginia Workplace Safety Rules
Governor Ralph Northam signed an executive order with new safety rules in June, covering areas such as social distancing, wearing face coverings (masks), washing hands and providing hand sanitizer, cleaning surfaces, and so on. The rules are designed to help slow the spread of the virus and protect workers. These temporary standards are in place for six months and may be made into law in the future. Workers who see violations of these rules may report them to the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry to have them be enforced.
Right now Virginia workers with COVID-19 are in an uncertain state. The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission has not indicated whether COVID-19 would count as an everyday disease, which is not eligible for workers’ comp coverage, or as an occupational disease, which would be.
Businesses are paying fewer premiums to workers’ comp insurance companies, since they are furloughing and laying off staff, or even closing completely. Businesses only need to insure the employees who are currently working, so if half of their staff is furloughed they don’t need to have workers’ comp insurance for the other half during the furlough. Fewer workers’ comp cases overall and fewer premiums coming in mean that the workers’ comp insurance companies may need to furlough or lay off workers themselves: there will be less work to do and less money to pay people with.