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Workers’ Compensation Goes Virtual Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Workers’ Compensation Goes Virtual Amid Coronavirus Outbreak
A masked associate restocks shelves at a Tampa, Fla., Walmart store in March 2020

While many businesses have temporarily closed during the COVID-19 outbreak, grocery stores are one of the businesses deemed essential and have remained open to provide food and other goods to consumers in an uncertain and challenging time.

With an influx of shoppers, stores have had to adjust – whether it’s limiting the number of shoppers in the store at any given time, redirecting the flow of traffic throughout the store, changing operating hours or taking action to enforce social distancing. While other industries are focused on trimming costs, many grocery stores have been on a hiring tear, adding to their workforce to accommodate more sanitization and restocking shelves – even stocking shelves at night, when they never did before.

The modern workers’ comp insurance industry has never witnessed a pandemic like this, and insurers are monitoring state and federal legislation that could impact how claims are administered, but, in the meantime, all of the common injuries are still occurring and – we expect – increasing due to many factors, including lack of training, employee age and challenging work conditions.

Welcome to the 21st Century

In this environment, supermarkets and grocery managers now have an added complexity: training new staff while attempting to limit personal contact.

One way, of course, is to observe social distancing while ensuring that new employees are properly onboarded is virtual training. Prior to this crisis, more companies had moved online for their training modules, and we’re hearing from our clients that they’re adopting virtual training faster than before. Indeed, it’s a critical element for new hires, as an inexperienced workforce can lead to more workers’ compensation claims.

While we live in a virtual world, many businesses still rely on in-person interaction, insurance included. Similar to other businesses, the workers’ compensation industry is also shifting to virtual mode, with meetings over webcam and surveys completed online rather than in person. We have moved to virtual solutions for loss control, premium audits, and, as needed, on-site claims investigations that were previously handled in person. There’s no replacing human interaction, but safety is paramount – and core to our business – and there’s more risk than reward for nonessential in-person meetings today.

This has forced businesses to jump into the 21st century and, while it doesn’t come without challenges, it’s a necessary change, and elements of the process that can be done successfully via remote means could become something of a “new norm” for the workers’ compensation industry.

Whether an employee slips and falls in an aisle after a spill, a manager falls off a ladder while assisting a customer in getting a hard-to-reach item, or a deli employee slices a finger, situations will arise, and could even increase, given the added volume in stores today. The workers’ compensation industry is taking great care to implement virtual measures to ensure that these claims are handled as quickly as possible and not further delayed due to the COVID-19 crisis. It’s a different world today from the one we lived in a short time ago, but we can all do our part to ensure the safety of those around us.

Treatment Options Should an Injury Occur

Despite strict adherence to safety measures, workplace accidents and injuries will occur. Should an employee suffer an injury, seeing a doctor for routine visits can be challenging, given the COVID-19 outbreak. Additionally, there’s a risk of contracting the virus while visiting a physician in person; however, injured employees now have more options regarding their care and treatment. For instance, AmTrust is working with its vendors to ensure ongoing assistance for injured employees, including continuing medical treatment via telemedicine. Injured employees can search for telemedicine options when looking for approved providers.

If the injury involves ongoing treatment, routine or follow-up evaluation appointments may be deemed necessary. Providers may conduct telephone screening before confirming appointments, and then offer telemedicine solutions to help address treatment needs remotely. Currently, elective surgeries are being rescheduled to allow focus on critical care at this time, and orthopedic surgeries could see changes to their scheduling. Employees with planned surgeries may need to discuss their options with a health care professional.

About the Author

Matt Zender

Matt Zender is SVP and workers’ compensation product manager for New York-based AmTrust Financial Services. He can be reached at [email protected]. AmTrust has developed a library of coronavirus resources to help our partners stay safe during this challenging time.  

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