As drivers continue to stay on the road during the COVID-19 pandemic or get back to work as states slowly reopen, workers’ compensation claims related to coronavirus are inevitable.
Workers’ compensation is rapidly evolving, as states rewrite their policies to include a subset of employees not previously eligible for coverage. As no two states are the same, neither is the language defining who is eligible for workers’ compensation in these unprecedented times.
Here are five things trucking fleets need to know about COVID-19 and workers’ compensation:
1. Workers’ compensation policy changes are fluid.
Like what we know about the virus, workers’ compensation policies are changing every day, as states, propose, enact, and even retract language and definitions concerning who is eligible.
The majority of states have specifically named healthcare workers and first responders, and many have also included “essential workers” or “others” in their pending or enacted policies. Other states have broadened the language even further to include workers employed by a “life-sustaining business” and employees “at risk of exposure as part of their job.”
As time goes on, states may edit their workers’ compensation policies to define more specific occupations, and perhaps include truck drivers. The majority, however, will proceed as is. If and when claims are denied, the vague language opens the door for the state courts to determine whether or not the claimant is eligible. Until case law is established, this will be the process for the foreseeable future.
2. It’s important to respond immediately to COVID-19 claims.
Due to the quick pace of workers’ compensation policy revisions, it is of the utmost importance for fleets to report a COVID-19 claim to the claims handler immediately.
It’s important to note, when a fleet reports a COVID-19 claim, the employer is not admitting compensability or acceptance of the claim. Rather, a timely investigation increases the opportunity for more accurate details from the claimant, employer and medical professionals, to determine the compensability of the claim.
3. What considerations affect compensability.
The workers’ compensation claims handler is trained to ask specific questions related to COVID-19 exposure, to help determine compensability. Many factors are taken into account, including:
- The jurisdiction of the filed claim, whether it is where the trucker works (payroll state), lives, or where the exposure occurred. The employer typically has established protocol for assigning jurisdiction. The employee may select a different jurisdiction for benefits depending on the facts of the injury/illness.
- Type of job, whether it’s essential or nonessential as determined by state policies.
- Degree of exposure from work duties.
- Confirmed or unconfirmed testing. Some states require employees to meet criteria such as testing positive or a diagnosis by a physician.
- Type of treatment, such as whether symptoms were confirmed, if the employee underwent a precautionary quarantine, or was treated at the hospital.
- Knowledge of how coronavirus was contracted, and if roommates, family members or coworkers were infected.
- Recent travel.
- When symptoms first occurred.
- Contract tracing notification.
4. Other options beyond workers’ compensation.
If the trucker’s COVID-19 claim is denied, he/she may still be eligible for healthcare benefits, but again, each employer will differ in the scope and reimbursement of such benefits.
Additionally, through Dec. 31, employees may be eligible for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This federal act provides small and midsize employers refundable tax credits that reimburse them, dollar-for-dollar, for the cost of providing up to two weeks of paid sick leave and up to 12 weeks of expanded family and medical leave to employees for leave related to COVID-19.
All employers – not just trucking fleets – with under 500 employees must comply with this new policy. However, businesses under 50 employees can file for an exemption if complying would affect the fleet’s ability to stay in business.
5. Preventive measures are important.
The number one way to avoid workers’ compensation claims is by keeping truckers safe. Provide personal protective equipment such as masks, hand wipes, and sanitizer, and educate employees on other safety measures regarding hand washing and social distancing. It’s important to continue doing so, even as states begin to reopen. Fleet leadership need to practice what they preach, with their own safety measures in the office and during training.
Fleets couldn’t predict the magnitude of the pandemic’s toll on the transportation industry, and while workers’ compensation policy revisions are under way at a quick pace, it is important to stay up-to-date on the details and process, and act immediately when a coronavirus claim is filed. But most importantly, fleets can help prevent claims through safety supplies, education, communication and leadership.
Lori Ilgenfritz is account principal with Gallagher Bassett’s Transportation Practice, provider of risk and claims management services. This article was authored and edited according to HDT editorial standards and style to provide useful information to our readers.