COVID-19 AND THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

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Workers’ Compensation Claims Increase During Uncertain Times

Regardless of the size of your business or where you’re located, if you work in construction, your operations have been impacted by the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) across the country. And the challenges go beyond protecting workers. In the upcoming months, our workers’ compensation defense attorneys in Florida are forecasting an expected increase in workers’ compensation claims due to the pandemic. 

In this article, a construction attorney will discuss why. If your business needs employment law advice or you need a stop-work order in Florida lifted, consult the workers’ compensation defense lawyers in Florida at Cotney Construction Law. 

Related: Dealing With Workers’ Comp During the Pandemic

Projected Increase in Construction Claims

Although the vast majority of businesses have either temporarily closed or moved to telework, construction work remains open. For businesses that moved to telework, there may be an expectation that there will not be an increase in the number of workers’ compensation claims coming in the next few months, but not for construction work. Although jobsites are doing everything they can to stop the spread of COVID-19, essential construction workers are likely at greater risk than employees working remotely. 

3 Reasons for the Increase

Of course, not all claims in the coming month will be COVID-related. In fact, many of the claims will be related to overexertion injuries or jobsite mishaps. Unfortunately, with reduced crews and longer hours, there is a greater likelihood of these types of work-related claims. A projected increase in claims can be linked to three other pandemic ramifications:

1) Cross-Training the Workforce: Any time a worker has to perform tasks outside of the scope of their normal tasks, there is an increased risk of the worker experiencing an injury. As advised by public health organizations to prepare for absenteeism, employers must cross-train their employees to ensure that the essential functions of the jobsite can be performed even with a limited workforce. When employees perform unfamiliar tasks, the end result is that injuries are more likely to occur.

2) Lack of Training: Although there are some projected labor gap issues that arise in construction during times of uncertainty, many construction firms still have new hires that may have just recently begun their onboarding process. They may have been hired right before the pandemic or to meet the demand today. Any time training programs are rushed or safety programs aren’t thoroughly conducted, new hires can be more prone to workplace injuries.

3) Rise in Unemployment: Unfortunately, with a looming recession, many businesses will need to reduce payroll and terminate or furlough employees. When there’s an increase of individuals out of work, there is often a spike in former employees filing workers’ compensation claims. 

Related: During Uncertain Times, Pay Close Attention to Your Employee Handbook

Other Challenges Facing Employers

It’s reasonable for employers to prepare for a rise in claims over this summer. Moreover, employers should keep in mind that any existing claims remain valid despite the pandemic. Although most government offices have shuttered their doors, some claim hearings can be conducted remotely, while others will be resumed after the statewide stay-at-home order is lifted. Despite limited compliance officers in the field right now, employers should also keep in mind that they can still be issued a stop-work order in Florida if they fail to have appropriate coverage in place. 

As many of the traditional resources involved in claims are currently experiencing limitations (including medical providers, physical therapists, compliance officers, etc.) and any non-COVID-related healthcare services are temporarily postponed, many of these active cases will remain unresolved until businesses return to work. As a result, many employees’ claims will remain active until they can properly recover with effective medical treatment. As a result, many employees will continue to access benefits and wait for a solution. Moreover, these delays in workers’ compensation claims will only present more challenges when workers are ready to return to work and when medical providers are ready to begin seeing patients again. 

Related: 50 State Essential Business Spreadsheet

Advice for Employers

Considering the above challenges, here’s a few final pieces of advice for employers during this challenging time:

Investigate All Claims: We have stressed the importance of detecting fraudulent claims in the past. It’s especially important for employers to do so in the upcoming months. Although there may be an increase in claims over the next few months, employers need to do everything in their power to weed out fraudulent claims. Furthermore, it’s important during this uncertain time to prioritize the more challenging claims and get them resolved.

Communication Is Key: Communication is critical during this pandemic. Employers need to stay in close communication with injured or sick employees. Of course, any infected workers will need to be in touch with their employer and have a firm understanding of their rights under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). For some workers recovering from an injury that occurred before the pandemic, there may be telemedicine options available to aid the recovering worker during this time. 

Everything Begins With Training: Employers that deploy effective training processes for all areas of operations will prevent injuries and enjoy long-term success. Training processes include educating your workforce on the best health and safety practices and also informing them of the most recent federal, state, and local legislative changes that impact the workplace. 

For assistance updating safety manuals or employment law advice related to workers’ compensation, consult a construction attorney from Cotney Construction Law.  

If you would like to speak with a stop-work attorney in Florida, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.