Thursday, November 6, 2014
Who insures short-duration work-injury caused absences?
Most people would say, “work-related injuries that result in workers losing time and earnings are covered by workers’ compensation”. In most Canadian provinces, that statement would be true. In three Canadian provinces (PEI, NB and NS) and all US states, short-duration time-loss claims may receive no compensation under workers’ compensation statutes currently in force. In all but seventeen states, most injured workers with less than two weeks of missed work due to their injuries will never receive compensation for an initial waiting period of three to seven days.
For these shorter-duration work-injury or illness caused absences, the worker is essentially self-insured for the waiting period. From a workers’ compensation insurer perspective, these claims may have minor costs for health care but are essentially costless in terms of compensation for temporary disability resulting in lost wages. I can find no jurisdiction with a waiting period that publicly quantifies either the number of cases where a waiting period was served or the value of uncompensated lost wages being borne by injured workers who miss more than the day of injury.
Without data, it is hard to estimate the number of work-related absence cases that are going uncompensated because of waiting periods. Without measurement, it is hard to see if this burden is shrinking or growing. Without a financial implication, the case for prevention may be less than it might otherwise be.
Jurisdictions such as British Columbia that compensate for time lost beyond the day of injury may provide an indirect indication of what is not being compensated in jurisdictions with waiting periods. Using WorkSafeBC claims originating with injuries in 2010 and considering all the days paid through to October 2014, approximately 23% of work injury claims were compensated for 1 to 3 days. Using a one-week measure, about 36.5% of claims received compensation for one week or less. Almost half the claims show a worker with temporary disability of two weeks or less; nearly 60% of these 2010 injured workers have three weeks or less lost due to work-related injury. If a similar distribution of work-related injury absences applies in the US, then about half of work-related injuries involving time-loss are at least partly insured by injured workers themselves.
These shorter duration time-loss claims provide critical data on the causes and nature of injuries (data that are not typically collected if no wage-loss compensation is paid). These data can inform prevention activities and public policy that will reduce future incidents. More importantly, the compensation for wages lost not only lessen the burden the injury imposes on the worker but also creates an incentive toward prevention of all injuries and not just the most costly ones. This is critically important because the difference between a multi-million dollar claim and one involving just a day or two of wage loss is often a matter of millimeters.