Extended support for workers and employers due to the Omicron variant
As the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus continues to spread in the province, the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) is further extending cost relief to June 30, 2022 for employers to cover costs for accepted work-related COVID-19 claims.
“We’re continuing to do what we can to care for injured workers and employers impacted by the pandemic,” said the WCB’s CEO Phillip Germain. “We’re accepting eligible workplace COVID-19 claims and given the recent Omicron surge, the WCB is also extending temporary financial support for employers to cover COVID-19 claim costs. By taking a proactive response to the higher transmissibility of the Omicron variant, we believe this decision will help assist workers and employers affected by COVID-19 injury claims.”
The WCB has implemented relief measures for employers and workers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, including providing cost relief for employers. For claims that occurred in 2020 and 2021, the WCB has provided more than $5.6 million in cost relief for COVID-19 injury claims. The cost relief is funded through the WCB’s occupational disease reserve as a temporary measure to aid Saskatchewan employers.
“This most recent extension of the cost relief to June 30, 2022 is a temporary measure to provide relief to employers. We are utilizing our occupational disease reserve so that these COVID-19 claims do not affect the specific employer’s experience rating,” said Germain. “We are constantly monitoring the rapidly shifting pandemic landscape and making decisions to balance the needs of employers and injured workers.”
The WCB will cover employer costs for accepted COVID-19 claims that occur between March 1, 2020 and June 30, 2022. Workers will receive the support they need and the costs that employers would have been assigned will be covered through the WCB’s occupational disease reserve. This reserve is being used to address the unanticipated negative impact of the COVID-19 virus and the costs that result from any COVID-19 workplace claims. The WCB will continue to assess the impact of the pandemic to employers and workers, and will communicate next steps prior to June 30.
In Saskatchewan, the WCB is legislated under The Workers’ Compensation Act, 2013 to maintain an Injury Fund sufficient to finance current and future injured worker claims, including earnings loss, physical and vocational rehabilitation, prevention initiatives and other obligations under the Act.
WCB continues to cover workplace COVID-19 injury claims
Workers and employers continue to be able to submit eligible COVID-19 workplace injury claims to the WCB. A worker may be entitled to WCB benefits if there is a confirmed link between the worker’s exposure and their employment, and they contract COVID-19.
“WCB injury claims submitted for work-related COVID-19 exposures are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis,” said Jennifer Norleen-Beitel, the WCB’s vice-president of operations. “Each injury claim will be assessed on its own merits with consideration to relevant medical information. This includes a diagnosis, the nature of the occupation and the extent of exposure. We gather information from the worker and the employer to confirm the injury and the source of exposure.”
“After almost two years, the COVID-19 pandemic is still changing how employers across Saskatchewan do business,” said the WCB’s chair Gord Dobrowolsky. “We recognize the impact and will work to continue supporting workers and employers as we all navigate through the pandemic. Together, we can help keep everyone safe at work.”
Frequently asked questions for workers and employers on COVID-19 cost relief and COVID-19 workplace injury claims are available at www.wcbsask.com.
WCB will cover costs associated with COVID-19 adverse vaccination reaction injury claims
To provide additional assistance for employers, the WCB is temporarily offering cost relief to cover all claim costs for accepted adverse reaction injury claims to COVID-19 vaccinations if an employer requires workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
If a worker is required by their employer to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and as a result, the worker is required to seek medical care or is medically required to miss work, the WCB will accept this claim and the employer would receive cost relief for all related claim costs.
“To further support employers in the pursuit of workplace safety, the WCB is providing cost relief for COVID-19 vaccination adverse reaction injury claims for employers who have, or are planning to, make COVID-19 vaccinations required in the workplace. These associated claim costs will not affect the employer’s experience rating,” said Germain.
Accepted adverse reaction COVID-19 vaccination workplace injuries that occur from Dec. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2022 will be eligible for cost relief for claim costs through the occupational disease reserve. During this temporary period, these claims will not need a link to a pre-existing condition as would normally be required.
For information on how to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 at work, visit www.worksafesask.ca.
Carolyn Van der Veen
Director, Strategic Communications
The Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce (SCC) applauds the WCB for continuing cost relief for employers with accepted COVID-19 claims. The SCC believes it is unfair to unduly penalize employers for COVID-related claims, especially as most workplaces have made significant physical modifications, implemented mandates, and/or modified practices to protect employees from the virus to the best of their ability. Those following all public health orders, or going beyond them, should be protected. WCB claims not only cost employers’ money, but they also often impact the ability of a business to receive contracts, thus sparking a multitude of indirect consequences.
“The SCC discussed the concerns of the business community with the WCB,” explained SCC CEO Steve McLellan. “We truly appreciate that the WCB heard these concerns and then incorporated new information regarding the Omicron variant to re-evaluate its position. The WCB Board and staff have shown thoughtful leadership and strong decision-making considering a changing environment, and we appreciate their responsiveness.”
“In addition, the SCC and its members are very appreciative of everything the WCB has done within its scope to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic on employers. Providing more than $4.3 million in cost relief related claims from the COVID-19 pandemic is truly significant and we thank the WCB for its stewardship of employer premiums to make this possible,” continued McLellan.
While the WCB has indicated it will continue to monitor the rapidly shifting pandemic landscape, the organization intends to revisit the decision to provide cost-relief in May 2022 and will communicate any changes to WCB customers and stakeholders in advance of June 30, 2022.
As per the extended policy, COVID claims will continue to only be accepted if there is substantiated workplace exposure and accepted claims will not go against the premium rating for individual employers. Funds from the WCB Injury Fund will be used to ensure injured workers are supported. The SCC also appreciates that the WCB is temporarily offering cost relief for employers with vaccine mandates for accepted adverse reaction COVID-19 vaccination workplace injuries. During this temporary period, from December 1, 2020, to December 31, 2022, these claims will not require a link to a pre-existing condition, as would normally be required.
Beyond advocating for the continuation of cost relief for employers with accepted COVID-19 claims, the SCC recently provided input to The Workers’ Compensation Act Committee of Review. The SCC’s recommendations focused on enhancing the system while fairly treating benefit recipients, minimizing employer costs, maintaining premium stability, and improving clarity. Click here to read the complete submission.
The Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce is the Voice of Saskatchewan Business and represents the interests of over 10,000 individual businesses, industry associations, and local chambers across the province through its chamber network. Information on the Low Carbon Economy and more can be found at SaskChamber.com or @SaskChamber on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
CEO, Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce