The Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) plans to end its cost relief measures for those employees injured by COVID-19, closing a program that has been in place for nearly two years.
The WCB provided cost relief measures to employers with accepted coronavirus workplace injury claims in 2020 and 2021, but those measures will Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022. However, COVID-19 workplace injuries that occur on or before Friday, Dec. 31 will still be eligible for cost relief.
Meanwhile, many of the WCB’s other employer relief measures concluded on July 31, 2020.
“Over the last 20 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WCB has taken a number of steps to support Saskatchewan employers through this difficult time, including providing cost relief for accepted COVID-19 workplace injury claims,” said CEO Phillip Germain.
“While the WCB is financially sound and able to absorb the claim costs related to the COVID-19 virus in the short term, the organization is unable to continue this practice in the long term.”
The WCB funded the cost relief for pandemic claims through its occupational disease reserve as a temporary measure to support Saskatchewan employers, the company explained. When the WCB’s cost relief for pandemic claims came into effect on March 2, 2020, vaccines were unavailable and many current safety measures were not in place.
However, the pandemic landscape changed this year as vaccines became available and negative testing policies were created in many locations. These steps have reduced the overall risk of catching the coronavirus in the workplace, WCB said. That is why, after almost 24 months, the WCB has decided to wrap up cost relief for accepted COVID-19 workplace injury claims.
From March 2020 to Nov. 5, 2021, the WCB provided more than $4.3 million in cost relief coverage for 1,302 accepted claims from the pandemic, the company continued. Moreover, it waived interest on unpaid premiums and removed penalties applied in 2020 for late filing, late registration, and underestimated penalties.
Furthermore, the WCB offered payment plans for employers and suspended payroll audits briefly in 2020, while it held the 2021 average premium rate the same as 2020.
The WCB held this year’s average premium rate at $1.17 rather than raising it to the calculated rate of $1.23. As a result, employers are expected to save more than $13 million in WCB premiums this year due to WCB holding the rate.
WCB recognizes that the province has been dealing with extraordinary circumstances and has supported employers to lift some pressures they were facing, Germain said. While these temporary measures are finishing after two years, employers and workers can still submit eligible COVID-19 workplace injury claims.
“We are exploring the idea of temporarily offering cost relief for adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccinations,” he added.
The WCB’s decision-making process on whether a case of COVID-19 is eligible for compensation will not change. A worker may be entitled to WCB benefits if there is a confirmed link between workers’ exposures and employment and if they contract the virus. To acquire these benefits, three conditions must be met:
- There is confirmed exposure to the disease in the workplace
- The time that the illness is contracted is near the confirmed workplace exposure
- The nature of employment creates a greater risk of exposure for the worker than to the general population
For more information about COVID-19 cost relief measures and workplace injury claims, visit www.wcbsask.com.