Are Employers Absorbing the Cost of COVID-19?
We are all trying to settle into our ‘new normal’ in a post-pandemic world. Unless and until there is a vaccine, COVID-19 will continue to play a significant role in how we navigate moving forward, however, some things never change such as work-related accidents and Workers’ Compensation (WCB) premiums payments. COVID-19 has impacted WCB claims in three ways:
- COVID-19 Claim Entitlement: While most provinces had provisions in place to deal with emergency situations and occupational exposure to infectious diseases, the criteria under which claims were accepted under these provisions was relatively narrow. Due to the lockdown imposed in mid-March the number of industries deemed as ‘essential services’ broadened, resulting in a larger cohort of essential workers being identified. Provincial workers’ compensation boards responded by expanding coverage for these front-line workers should they contract COVID-19, as a result increasing the potential number of associated WCB claims. More information about COVID-19 claim entitlement can be found in our previous post here.
- Medical Treatment: As the country went into lockdown in mid-March of this year, healthcare providers, treatment facilities, and rehabilitation programs also shut down thereby restricting access to injured workers and interrupting or delaying their recovery process. While virtual doctor’s appointments, physiotherapy treatments, and WCB rehabilitation programs are better than nothing, they can not replace the value of face-to-face interactions necessary to keep a worker’s recovery on track. Delays in obtaining diagnostic imaging, procedures, and tests as well as postponed surgeries also prolong recovery times.
- Return to Work Plans: Due to the lockdown, employers were forced to shut down, reduce staff and/or revamp their operations effectively removing or reducing modified duties and interrupting return to work programs. Workers affected by this ended up receiving full WCB wage loss benefits. During this period, injured workers who were ready to start back to work in a modified capacity were unable to do so and therefore full WCB wage loss benefits were continued. Additionally, the longer an injured worker remains off work the greater the risk that they will become deconditioned and need more time to adjust to full duties and full hours when work is eventually available.
In Canada, every province has addressed the economic impact on employers by deferring WCB premium payments or waiving interest on late payments. The provincial Workers’ Compensation boards have also announced cost relief measures for physical and psychological work-related COVID-19 claims, but this does not take into account the additional costs accumulating on regular WCB claims resulting from COVID-19, as outlined above. Some Provinces are indicating that cost relief will be applied automatically to applicable claims and some are still looking into what considerations they will offer employers:
Alberta – leads the way and has announced that it is implementing cost relief measures that will relieve approximately $10 million in claim costs from employers’ experience.
BC – is investigating if current policy addresses pandemics and exploring the possibility of a new policy.
Manitoba – is looking at claims individually and considering the economic and business impacts but has not put anything formal in place at this time.
Saskatchewan – is looking at applying existing policies to provide full or partial cost relief where applicable.
Whether it is workers’ contracting COVID-19 through occupational exposure, the fall-out from restricted healthcare access and treatment facilities or the inability of an employer to offer or continue to offer modified duties to an injured worker attempting to return to work, there are potential claim costs being absorbed by employers that are far beyond their control. These claim costs will be realized in increased WCB premiums over the coming years. Now is the time to identify any claims where COVID-19 has had an impact on costs.
Regardless if it’s claim acceptance, delays in treatment and/or barriers to return to work plans, or the WCB indicating that cost relief will be applied automatically, the onus will be on employers’ to ensure that the appropriate and available cost relief measures have been granted and applied.
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