COVID-19 Workers’ Comp Claims Level Off

THE NUMBER of COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims in California continues to hold steady as we near the end of the year and the numbers pale in comparison to how many claims were being filed in December 2020, according to new data.

To date, there have been 170,387 claims filed through the end of November, according to the California Workers’ Compensation Institute. Additionally, there have been 1,217 workers’ compensation death claims.

Here’s where we stand in a month-by-month comparison from May of this year until the end of the year in terms of number of COVID-19 claims by month of injury (statistics furnished by California Workers’ Compensation Institute):

  • May: 747 claims, compared to 5,148 claims in May 2020.
  • June: 799 claims, compared to 12,495 in June 2020.
  • July: 4,751 claims, compared to 15,520 in July 2020.
  • August: 7,831 claims, compared to 6,979 in August 2020.
  • September: 3,769 claims, compared to 4,711 in September 2020.
  • October: 3,139 claims, compared to 5,476 in October 2020.

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: 30%
  • Public safety/government: 19%
  • Retail: 10%
  • Manufacturing: 7%
  • Transportation: 7%
  • Food services: 5%
  • Administration and waste: 5%
  • Finance: 2.5%
  • Construction: 2.5%
  • Wholesale: 2%
  • Agriculture: 2%

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

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.