What the COVID-19 pandemic means for workers compensation claims

So far, the impact of COVID-19 on workers compensation has not been as great as first feared. The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) reported that as of the second quarter 2020, out of every 100,000 active workers comp claims, COVID-19 medical claims accounted for only about 200, depending on the jurisdiction.

Still, the pandemic presents uncertainties and concerns for workers compensation, just as it does for many other sectors.

NCCI’s annual survey found that COVID-19 was the top concern of workers compensation executives going into 2021.  Executives worry about uncertainty surrounding the duration of the pandemic, the size and number of claims that could develop, recovery time for workers sickened by COVID-19 and whether there would be long-term needs or lasting adverse effects.

Executives also mentioned state compensability presumptions that have arisen during the pandemic. These presumption rules, passed by various states, say that COVID-19 infections in certain workers are presumed to be work-related and covered under workers compensation. This presumption places the burden on the employer and insurer to prove that the infection was not work-related making it easier for those workers to file successful claims.

The executives surveyed by the NCCI expressed concern about the variations developing across states and the complexity of legislation and regulations that adds to the challenge of the rapidly evolving environment. Several noted issues and questions related to reinsurance for presumptive claims. Others are anticipating that compensability presumptions for contagious diseases, such as those instituted for COVID-19, will be widely adopted and permanently enacted or even expanded, in some cases, to include other common diseases.

In many states, immigrants are eligible for workers compensation benefits regardless of their legal status. A recent blog post by a legal expert showed how a decision by the Supreme Court of Nevada reiterated that the state’s workers’ compensation statutes clearly and unambiguously protected every person in the service of an employer, whether lawfully or unlawfully employed. The high court affirmed the judgment of the state district court that denied judicial review to an appeals officer’s decision awarding permanent total disability benefits to an undocumented worker.