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Huge Spike in COVID-19 Workers’ Comp Claims

After a continuous decline in COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims in California, the number of claims soared nearly 300% from June to July, according to new data.  

In July, 2,581 workers filed workers’ comp claims for contracting COVID-19 on the job, up 282% from 676 in June, according to the California Workers’ Compensation Institute.   

That was the first monthly increase since claims started dropping after they hit a high of 43,233 in December 2020. The surge in cases mirrors what’s happening in California as the highly contagious delta variant of the disease spreads largely among the unvaccinated population.   

COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims have tracked infection rates in the greater state population and, during the last two months, the number of daily cases and hospitalizations has been steadily rising. The only difference since the last surge in December and January is that the state is not seeing as many deaths as then.  

Proportion of claims per sector: 

  • Health care: 31% 
  • Public safety/government: 17.5% 
  • Retail: 10.5% 
  • Manufacturing: 7.5 
  • Transportation: 6.5% 
  • Food services: 4.5% 
  • Finance: 2.5% 
  • Construction: 2.5% 
  • Wholesale: 2% 
  • Agriculture: 2% 

Source: California Workers’ Compensation Institute COVID-19 Interactive App

The sudden increase in claims comes two months after most restrictions were lifted in the state and Cal/OSHA issued new guidance allowing unvaccinated workers to not wear masks and requiring that unvaccinated staff continue wearing masks and social distancing.  

But many workplaces are not following the guidance and many workers in offices and settings where they are not dealing with customers face-to-face are ignoring state safety rules and going without a mask.  

It’s especially easy to for those who are choosing not to be vaccinated to lie and say they are, or just blend in if an employer is not asking about vaccine status in order to avoid being required to wear a mask.  

Challenging a claim

Under California law in place since July 2020, if a worker tests positive for COVID-19, they are automatically presumed to have contracted it on the job if they are reporting to a workplace where a coronavirus outbreak has occurred. The law defines an “outbreak” as when:   

  • Four employees test positive for COVID-19 within 14 calendar days if the employer has 100 or fewer workers. 
  • Four percent of the employees test positive for COVID-19 within 14 calendar days if the employer has more than 100 employees.  
  • The place of employment is ordered closed by public authorities due to a risk of infection with COVID-19. 

Without any of those conditions, the employer may try to challenge the claim if they believe or have evidence that the worker contracted the coronavirus outside of the workplace.  

While the recent spike in new COVID-19 is eye-opening, claims do not count against an employer’s experience modifier (X-Mod). Nonetheless, employers should continue following Cal/OSHA workplace safety guidelines to minimize the risk of spread in the workplace, particularly as a not insignificant percentage of the workforce has not been vaccinated.

VMA members have access to a vetted HR attorney who can help you with your small business HR questions. Please contact shannon@visualmediaalliance.org for more information.

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