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Three long-term impacts of COVID-19 on workers compensation claims

Three long-term impacts of COVID-19 on workers compensation claims

COVID-19 has impacted nearly every industry, and as a result, both employers and employees are facing growing concerns regarding the long-term impact of the virus—and how it is complicating injured worker recoveries.  

For example, according to an article by the University of California Davis-Opens in new window, we know that a growing number of people who become ill with the virus will experience mild to moderate symptoms for a prolonged period of time. Referred to as “long COVID-19” or “long-haulers”, these people can exhibit an expanding array of potentially chronic symptoms—including symptoms that may surface at a later date. As an employer, it’s important to not only understand and prepare for the uncertainty surrounding the lingering and long-term effects of a COVID-19 recovery, but also the impact the illness may have on future workers compensation claims. Here’s what you can expect:

COVID-19 claims are likely to be unique, not straightforward.

A common denominator of COVID-19 is that it can affect everyone differently. So, while some of your employees may be able to return to work quickly in a more normal timeframe, others can experience relapses that can take several weeks or longer to recover from.

  • Roughly 10 percent of individuals stricken with COVID-19 experience prolonged symptoms.
  • Even among those that experience mild symptoms, more than 33 percent of individuals infected with the virus had not recovered fully two to three weeks after testing positive.
  • In one study, 87 percent of individuals infected reported the persistence of at least one symptom.

Because COVID-19 is a new disease, little is known so far about what’s causing the persistence of symptoms or the appearance of new ones – and what’s hindering full recovery. Among the longer-term health problems associated with COVID-19 are shortness of breath, fatigue, cognitive issues, cardiovascular effects, gastrointestinal issues, low-grade fever, intolerance to physical or mental activity, and muscle and joint pains. What this means is that each COVID-19 occurrence may have distinct consequences – on both your employees and the impact of having a long road to recovery, but also challenging your business’ risk planning efforts.

COVID-19 workers compensation claims may have long tails, with full impact unknown until later.

Like many employers, you may have had to scale back operations at various points during the pandemic with workers logging fewer hours, working remotely, or being furloughed. As a result, your business may have experienced a modest decrease in the number of annual workers compensation claims.  However, there continue to be concerns about the challenging long-tail nature of COVID-19 claims. According to the “2020 State of the Line Guide” by the National Council on Compensation Insurance-Opens in new window (NCCI), there are several aspects that could easily extend active claims. The report highlights COVID-19 claim-duration predictions, among them:

  • Severity of illness will dictate costs – from low-cost medical care to treat mild symptoms, to hospital stays and/or extended rehabilitation for more serious cases.
  • Delayed medical care and physical therapy for other nonacute conditions may contribute to injury creep – extending claim duration and putting upward pressure on costs.
  • Some COVID-19 claims may also involve a mental component and could require temporary or long-term treatment.

The still-evolving long-tail nature of these claims means that lingering symptoms can impact both your recovering employees and future  workers compensation costs. 

COVID-19 experiences pose challenges to return to work norms and employee staffing.

A key part of managing your workers compensation costs is ensuring timely medical care for employees in order to support return to work efforts as quickly and safely as possible after recovery. Due to varying state mandates, many medical facilities have delayed elective procedures and have curtailed the amount of available office appointments – making medical care more difficult to come by for some employees. Also, due to decreased staffing, businesses may have fewer return to work and light-duty opportunities available, which could also prolong the length of a claim.


When assessing the potential longer-term COVID-19 impact, many factors play a role in affecting your business’ claims experience as you continue to navigate risk management. At Helmsman Management Services, we understand the challenges your business is up against because of COVID-19 as you continue to manage workers compensation claims costs. For additional COVID-19 resources, please visit our Coronavirus Guidance page.

This website is general in nature and is provided as a courtesy to you. Information is accurate to the best of Helmsman Management Services’ knowledge, but companies and individuals should not rely on it to prevent and mitigate all risks as an explanation of coverage or benefits under a policy or service contract. Consult your professional advisor regarding your particular facts and circumstance. By citing external authorities or linking to other websites, Helmsman Management Services is not endorsing them.