In March 2020, COVID-19 swept the globe, drastically impacting the workforce in more ways than one. Countless people were left unemployed or unable to work for an extended period. As businesses were forced to shut down, many looked to the government for support.
What impact did COVID have on workers’ compensation claims in Florida? Has the virus ever been covered by workers’ compensation insurance? Let’s take a look at what workers’ comp encompasses and what influence COVID-19 has had on claims in Florida.
Understanding workers’ compensation and what it includes
Workers’ compensation insurance is crucial for protecting your employees as well as your business. If an employee gets injured at work or becomes ill as a direct result of their job, workers’ comp is there to offer financial protection.
Typically, workers’ compensation covers medical expenses, including rehabilitation costs. It also covers wages lost while the injured employee is recovering, and it offers benefits for anyone who experiences a permanent injury.
Workers who contract illnesses like COPD, cardiovascular disease, and hearing loss due to the nature of their work are usually covered by workers’ compensation. Those same rules generally don’t apply to community-spread illnesses. However, there are some exceptions when it comes to COVID-19.
Essential workers and workers’ comp claims
During the height of the pandemic, while many were mandated to stay home, essential workers continued showing up every day. According to the CDC, essential workers include—but aren’t limited to—police officers, firefighters, healthcare workers, emergency personnel, anyone in agriculture and food production, energy, water and wastewater, and critical retail.
In Florida, first responders and healthcare workers who contracted COVID due to exposure at work were eligible for workers’ compensation. Even in situations when a particular job wasn’t originally deemed hazardous, like grocery store employees or child care workers, if there was a high risk of COVID exposure, they were eligible. However, while it wasn’t completely impossible, it was often difficult to prove that the virus was contracted while at work, and many of those COVID-related claims were unfortunately denied.
Influence of COVID-19 on workers’ compensation claims
Generally, because many businesses were shut down during the peak of the pandemic, the number of workers’ compensation claims dwindled. With fewer people working, there was less opportunity for accidents to occur on the job.
In many cases, indemnity-only claims were most commonly seen. These claims were typically small, only including a few weeks of pay. Medical claims, on the other hand, included necessary medical treatment as well as any wages lost for the time spent recovering. Indemnity claims were common when workers were exposed to COVID-19, tested positive but had little or no symptoms, and were required to quarantine as a precaution. In some cases, quarantine pay was also included.
Long COVID and workers’ compensation
Some who were infected with COVID-19 suffered—or continue to suffer—from ongoing health issues now known as Long COVID. The effects of Long COVID are different for each person—ranging from constant brain fog and chronic pain to shortness of breath and extreme fatigue.
Throughout 2022 and into 2023, worker’s comp claims of Long COVID continued to rise. There’s a great deal of nuance as to how these claims are handled, as the symptoms of Long COVID vary greatly from person to person, and can ultimately impact whether or not a worker can maintain their job.
COVID-19 and workers’ compensation claims in Florida
Insurance everywhere, including Florida workers’ compensation, has had to shift to make way for life during and after the pandemic. The outbreak of COVID-19 has meant new ways of supporting workers were needed, and workers’ compensation has adapted to meet those needs.