Worker Wearing a Mask While Working

If you made it through 2020 unaffected by Covid-19, you are among a very lucky few. Most of us were affected in multiple ways, even if we did not get sick, lose loved ones to the virus, or become unemployed. Moving to a home office, having kids home from school, shifting every interaction—personal and professional—to Zoom, and going into several lockdowns were experiences many of us shared. These kinds of disruptions had a ripple effect across many industries and agencies, including the Ohio workers’ compensation system.

Changes to the Process

Almost immediately, the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and the Industrial Commission pivoted to virtual meetings and hearings. Claimants and their attorneys had to adjust to the new procedures quickly. While it’s certainly easier to phone into a hearing than to show up in person, this can put the claimant at a disadvantage. It can be more challenging to make a strong case when you are not in the same room as the hearing officer. Your physical limitations might be obvious to the judge at an in-person hearing, but on Zoom, it might be harder to see (especially when the hearings are audio-only!). With doctor’s offices closed to non-emergency services, some people had difficulty getting the medical evaluations they needed or could not follow up with required treatment plans. Fortunately, the BWC seems to have been taking a “We’re all in this together” approach to several of these problems.

Different Kinds of Injuries

With fewer people in the workplace in 2020, it might seem logical there would be fewer workers’ comp claims, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. This could be because the people still working in 2020 were working harder than ever. It could also be because certain workplace injuries—such as repetitive use injuries—continued to occur even in home offices. Some trends we saw in 2020 include:

  • Healthcare worker injuries. Across the country, most workers’ comp claims in 2020 came from people in the healthcare field. This is not surprising considering how overworked doctors, nurses, nursing home aides, medical assistants, and other hospital workers and critical care providers were during the worst of the pandemic. Claims from healthcare workers for back injuries, sprains and strains, shoulder injuries, and broken bones were up in 2020. Add to that claims for stress-related disorders and for contracting Covid-19 at work, and we had a busy year.
  • Essential worker injuries. In addition to healthcare workers, other essential employees such as first responders, grocery store clerks, trucking and shipping workers, and food production workers were injured at higher rates than normal in 2020. While claims for people in the entertainment industry, dining, and education were down in 2020, those will show an increase as we open back up in 2021.
  • Injuries in home offices. Ordering their employees to work from home does not exempt employers from workers’ comp coverage. People working at home who suffer an injury in the scope and course of employment are still eligible for workers’ comp. This means that if you trip over a box in your home office and break a hip or suffer painful carpal tunnel syndrome after months of sitting at a desk on a computer and cannot work, you should qualify for workers’ comp benefits.
  • Claims for Covid-19. In very limited situations, some workers can file claims for workers’ comp if they contracted Covid-19 at work. The Ohio BWC approved 836 claims for Covid-19 as of March 31, 2021. This is a departure from the standard policy of not covering infectious diseases.

Monast Law Office Supported Our Clients Throughout 2020

Along with everyone else, we here at Monast Law Office have had to adjust to the new normal, but we never stopped fighting for our clients. With telephone consultations, virtual hearings, socially distant meetings, and other strategies, we continued supporting our clients without interruption. Some things will never be the same after Covid-19, but the level of service we provide and the hard work we put in on your behalf will continue.

 

James Monast
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Fighting for Ohio’s Injured Workers and their Families