Cost Relief on COVID-19 Claims
In September 2020, the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) announced a plan to address the potential financial impact COVID-19 claims costs posed on Alberta employers.
The WCB identified 5 different applications of cost relief for claims where COVID-19 played a factor and that costs would automatically be removed from an employer’s experience records, namely:
- Cost relief for COVID-19 claims.
- Cost relief for claims where modified work was no longer available for no-time-loss claims due to the provincial shutdown.
- Cost relief for claims where the worker became fit for work during the shutdown and the employer could not offer modified work because of the shutdown (modified work must have been offered within two weeks of the provincial re-opening).
- Cost relief for delays in hospital admission and surgeries due to the pandemic.
- Recording claims as no-time-loss when modified work is no longer available. Although there are no actual costs to relieve, the status of the claim on the experience record will be changed.
The idea was to use existing policies rather than introducing new legislation to allow cost relief to be applied quickly and ensure that employer’s premium rates would not be negatively impacted by COVID-19. At the time, the WCB offered the most extensive cost relief package in the country and was looking at removing approximately $10 million in costs. In reality, the WCB relieved more than $17 million in 2020; their efforts and swift approach was commendable.
That being said, this initial attempt to address the financial impact of COVID-19 on WCB claims fell short. What the WCB offered was created prior to the onslaught of the 2nd and 3rd wave of COVID-19, which hit harder and greater than the 1st. The WCB has stated they will not be considering cost relief for delays in treatment such as physiotherapy, arguing the switch from in-person to virtual appointments happened in such a timely manner that worker’s recovery times were not significantly impacted. However, virtual treatment appointments cannot fully take the place of a hands on approach and even when clinics continued with in-person appointments during the 2nd and 3rd wave, the number of available appointments has been severely restricted and recovery times prolonged.
The WCB has, rightly, indicated that not every claim that was active or occurred during COVID-19 will be affected by the pandemic and that cost relief will not be applicable to all claims. While many WCB claims will not qualify for cost relief, this does give the WCB the discretion to determine how, why and when they will approve cost relief and the onus will be on employers to prove otherwise.
The WCB has also stated that COVID-19 cost relief will be implemented automatically but this is also based on their discretion of what fits the criteria. Employers cannot and should not assume that any claim they feel meets the criteria for cost relief will be viewed the same way by the WCB and costs removed accordingly. It will be up to employers to scrutinize their WCB claims and ensure if COVID-19 has played a factor that cost relief has been granted and applied appropriately.
While this all may seem overwhelming, there is help available. BCL Consulting Group continues to work diligently with the WCB to make sure our client’s rights are protected and to fully understand how the cost relief process works.
If you would like more information on how the WCB is handling COVID-19 claims costs you can check out the WCB Alberta COVID Cost Relief Q&A Sheet or you can reach out to us directly at [email protected] , [email protected], by phone at 1-844-377-9545 or you can connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. As always we are available to answer your questions or concerns to the best of our ability.