Workers’ compensation cases fell during the pandemic, but home-based workers still have aches and pains

By STEPHEN SINGERHartford Courant

In the coronavirus pandemic that sent millions of employees home to begin new work routines, reports of occupational injuries that were expected failed to materialize.

Remote workers still have lower back aches, neck pains and other afflictions common to sedentary jobs. But many are not reporting their physical ailments, instead seeking health advice to avoid or treat musculoskeletal and other problems.

The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., which handles about 1 million workers’ compensation and disability insurance claims a year, said the number of business customers seeking services to prevent work-from-home injuries jumped 200% in 18 months.

Vivienne Fleischer, co-founder and president of Performance Based Ergonomics, a consulting firm in the San Francisco area, said her company faces a “tidal wave” of requests for virtual ergonomic help and advice.

She, too, said an “anticipated uptick” in workers’ compensation cases has not been reported.

Mary Nasenbenny, chief claims officer at The Hartford, said employees who would be unable to go to the office because of lower back aches or shoulder pains have instead, as remote workers, accommodated themselves at home and kept working.

The Hartford expected rising claims “because people were sitting at their couches without the proper keyboard, without the proper chair height,” she said. Expectations of musculoskeletal problems and injuries were the focus of a “lot of talk” early in the pandemic and employers “caught on quickly,” providing ergonomic help and advice, she said.

Fleischer said cases of eye strain; neck, shoulder and lower back pain; even ear fatigue from too-frequent use of ear buds were the highest she’s seen in more than 20 years. The aches and pains did not end up in workers’ compensation claims, she said. She believes employees who prefer working from home balked at reporting injuries to avoid a forcedreturn to offices.

“They’re not going to HR to report things,” Fleischer said. “They might say ‘I need support. My back hurts. I need a new chair.’”

In Connecticut, 3,574 workers’ compensation claims related to COVID-19 were reported as of May, more than double the 1,454 in September 2020. More than 21,000 non-COVID-19 claims were reported as of May.

The exodus from offices left employers and employees unprepared, Fleischer said. Some clients had to work around roommates or were forced to do their jobs from their cars, off a yoga mat, even in a hammock.

“People were struggling to find comfort and privacy,” Fleischer said.

Nasenbenny said workers in The Hartford’s claims organization have been working remotely for years, while other employers had no experience advising workers about how to set up a home office.

“So we thought, boy there are a lot of rookies, employers that are going to be doing it or trying it for the first time and maybe not having all of the tools that they needed,” she said.

The Hartford offers virtual ergonomic assessments, health reviews, an analysis of physical demands and on-site strength and conditioning programs. It also uses analytics to monitor medical conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, neck strain and tendonitis, which can afflict workers in the office or remotely.

In April 2020, just a month after COVID-19 began its spread in the U.S., the American Chiropractic Association surveyed its members and found 92% of respondents reported an increase in musculoskeletal conditions such as back pain and neck pain or knew of people who were having these issues as a result of working from home.

More than half of respondents, or 57%, said a lack of movement was the main reason for a rising number of musculoskeletal problems during the pandemic, followed by psychological stress, at 20%, and poor posture, 12%.

Kelly Ingram-Mitchell, president of Unify Health Services, which partners with The Hartford and other companies for injury prevention and post-injury treatment, said many businesses that budgeted for pandemic-related expenses such as temperature checks and lab testing services failed to anticipate a growing need to pay for workplace injury prevention services.

Businesses are now using work-from-home as a recruiting tool, Ingram-Mitchell said. Bosses are pitching a work-life balance, time for exercise and eating better than at the office, she said.

A Very Nice Correspondence from HR Re: Return to Office

A Little Levity for your Friday! Hope to see you at NAPEO!

By Beth Teitell, Globe Staff

Our Chief Heart Officer will answer your questions as soon as her twins are out of quarantine!

ADOBE, ALLY RZESA/GLOBE STAFF

Dear Colleagues,

Thank you for attending the company-wide Zoom, and for your (numerous) questions in the wake of our updated return date announcement!

We understand that 2043 sounds like a long way off, but we are pleased to let you know that we are targeting Q1.

Julia will answer your concerns in greater detail at our next Zoom, which will be scheduled as soon as her twins are out of quarantine and able to return to day care.

For those of you who have not met Julia, she’s the new Dominique, who was the new Jada, who replaced Tom, who filled Arjun’s shoes, who stepped in when Darius left in March of . . . Who The Hell Can Remember Which March It Was Anymore.

In the meantime, here is what we can tell you!

Many of you have asked if it’s normal to feel like you’re alone on a rowboat that’s getting farther and farther from the shore, to the point where you can no longer see land, or even remember that there is such a thing as “land.”

Yes! This is a perfectly healthy response that in no way indicates you are becoming “unhinged” — as my teenager called me yesterday, hahahahaha.

Many productive employees spend hours lying on their living room floors staring at the ceiling, wondering about the meaning of time, as there seems to be no past and no future, only a very dull and very long “now.”

In fact, if this is you, congratulations! You have reached a wellness goal that the mindfulness community calls being “present.”

ADOBE, GLOBE STAFF

We will ask those employees who have reached this enlightened state to fill out a brief, mainly anonymous, survey. If you, or your manager, feel that your “mental state” is making it harder to meet the performance standards we’ve started measuring with our new tracking software, please reach out to HR (on your own time, or it will further weaken your performance numbers, hahahaha).

As explained in previous outreach, our investment in tools that are able to track keystrokes, eye movement, body shifts, and Netflix usage is an employee benefit proven to help YOU be the worker you want to be.

Regarding the dress code, and whether it will be relaxed going forward to allow “soft pants,” slippers, and top-only business attire:

We will be keeping our “suits and dress shoes” policy, but we are thrilled to announce a “fashion freeze” for a six-month period. Anything that was in style in March 2020 will be acceptable in Q1 and Q2 2043.

ADOBE, GLOBE STAFF

Hi, quick note, this is Alyssa! I’m taking over for Rose, the human resources gal who was writing to you at the beginning of this note. Rose has left to spend more time with family (wink wink, hahahaha).

Oh, I’ve been alerted to a change in policy. Starting tomorrow, we’ll be doing a soft return, and will be coming back to the office in a hybrid manner, at 9 sharp. Please plan child care, transportation, and weight loss accordingly.

Your manager, if he or she still knows where in the world, or even who, you are, will reach out with your assigned time slots. Workers should plan on being in the office 2.5 days per week, spread out over five days, alternating mornings and afternoons.

In answer to the question no one has asked yet, we are not sure if you will have your same desk.

During this period of “working alone together,” the number crunchers have shown management figures documenting hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual savings if we go to a “hostel” style desk plan. This allows several employees to share one desk — at the same time — and has the bonus benefit of hastening the “so glad to get reacquainted” period.

ADOBE, GLOBE STAFF

In response to questions about violations of HR policies, please be advised that our policies will remain the same, with one important update: All violations must now be conducted in a COVID-safe manner, 6 feet apart, masked, with sanitized hands, and preferably by the vaccinated.

And finally . . . Please enjoy the “Welcome Back!” goodie bag on your tiny scratch of desk! The $20.43 deduction you’ll notice in your paycheck is to cover the costs of the gourmet gummy bears and flimsy company-branded tote selected by my predecessor as her final act. Thank you, Rose!

Source: Beth Teitell can be reached at beth.teitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.

FAPEO is Right Around the Corner!

FAPEO’s annual business meeting is next Wednesday (8/4).

Click here to access the agenda. If you haven’t registered yet, you can email Suzanne Hurst at suzanne@helpmembers.org

In addition to the important legislative updates, we are certain that cyber security for PEOs will be a hot topic. Below is an overview of how we at Libertate look at cyber coverage. We will be available at FAPEO and would love to discuss further.

Paul HughesSharlie ReynoldsDavid Burgess
321.217.7477305.495.5173321.436.8214
phughes@libertateins.comsreynolds@libertateins.comdburgess@libertateins.com  

Parent Company of PEO Carrier Key Risk Reports Another Strong Quarter!

Kudos to our friends at W.R. Berkley for a stellar Q2! So happy they are a part of our PEO community.

W.R. Berkley Corp. reported net premium growth exceeding 27 percent and a combined ratio under 90 for the 2021 second quarter, positive results the commercial lines insurer and reinsurer attributed to rate adequacy and an improving economy.

Consolidated net premiums written during Q2 surpassed $2.2 billion, up from $1.7 billion in the 2020 second quarter.

The company booked net income of more than $237 million in Q2 versus $71.2 million a year ago.

Additionally, net investment income jumped nearly 97 percent to $169.2 million during the quarter.

The company said that its rate increases continue to outpace loss costs, with new products also helping to achieve or exceed its targeted rate levels. During the quarter, W.R. Berkley focused on exposure growth and business expansion, and it said the strategy should help lead to additional underwriting profits down the line.

W.R. Berkley’s consolidated combined ratio was 89.7 during the quarter, compared to 98.7 a year ago.

W.R. Berkley even produced gains for workers’ compensation, which had average rate increases of just under 10 percent.

Commercial auto and casualty reinsurance also saw large premium increases. Professional liability was among the largest gainers, jumping to $287 million in net premiums written during Q2, versus $174.2 million the year before.

Current accident year insurance losses from catastrophes, including COVID-related losses, landed at $36.8 billion during the quarter, improved from $114 million in the 2020 second quarter. Reinsurance and monoline excess losses were just under $7.2 million, compared to $31.8 million a year ago.

Source: W.R. Berkley

AM Best Assigns Credit Rating to Sunz Insurance Company

Congrats to our friends at Sunz for the A- (Excellent) rating!

Sunz Insurance

OLDWICK, N.J., July 16, 2021–(BUSINESS WIRE)–AM Best has assigned a Financial Strength Rating of A- (Excellent) and a Long-Term Issuer Credit Rating of “a-” (Excellent) to SUNZ Insurance Company (SUNZ) (Bradenton, FL). The outlook assigned to these Credit Ratings (ratings) is stable.

The ratings reflect SUNZ’s balance sheet strength, which AM Best assesses as very strong, as well as its adequate operating performance, limited business profile and appropriate enterprise risk management (ERM).

SUNZ was formed in 2005 and primarily writes high deductible worker’s compensation coverage utilizing its proprietary technology-driven platform focused on collateral management for its medium and small business clients.

SUNZ’s balance sheet assessment is supported by its risk-adjusted capitalization as measured by Best’s Capital Adequacy Ratio (BCAR) in current periods, projected future scores, and under stress scenarios. SUNZ balance sheet assessment also considers the capital contributions in support of recent premium growth, improved reserving patterns exhibited during the recent five-year period, its comprehensive reinsurance program diversified among highly rated participants, and a conservative investment portfolio that matches assets with liabilities.

SUNZ’s operating performance is assessed as adequate as evidenced by average pre-tax return on revenue measures that trail AM Best’s workers’ compensation industry composite over the recent five- and 10-year timeframe. SUNZ’s business profile assessment is limited as 49.9% of premiums are written in two states, California and Florida, when considering both direct and assumed premiums. Operating as a single line workers’ compensation insurer, SUNZ’s limited business profile exposes the company to the potential legislative, regulatory or judicial changes occurring within these states. SUNZ’s ERM approach is considered appropriate for the scale, scope and complexity of the organization.

While positive rating actions are unlikely over the near term, positive rating actions could be taken on SUNZ’s ratings should operating performance improve and be sustained at a level that is in line with peers with stronger operating performance assessments.

Key factors that could result in negative rating actions on SUNZ’s ratings and outlooks include a weakening in operating earnings to a level that is not supportive of the adequate operating performance assessment.

Negative rating actions could occur should adverse reserve development or strong premium growth result in a weakening in risk-adjusted capitalization that falls short of supporting the very strong balance sheet assessment.

This press release relates to Credit Ratings that have been published on AM Best’s website. For all rating information relating to the release and pertinent disclosures, including details of the office responsible for issuing each of the individual ratings referenced in this release, please see AM Best’s Recent Rating Activity web page. For additional information regarding the use and limitations of Credit Rating opinions, please view Guide to Best’s Credit Ratings. For information on the proper use of Best’s Credit Ratings, Best’s Preliminary Credit Assessments and AM Best press releases, please view Guide to Proper Use of Best’s Ratings & Assessments.

AM Best is a global credit rating agency, news publisher and data analytics provider specializing in the insurance industry. Headquartered in the United States, the company does business in over 100 countries with regional offices in London, Amsterdam, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Mexico City. For more information, visit www.ambest.com.

Copyright © 2021 by A.M. Best Rating Services, Inc. and/or its affiliates. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

View source version on businesswire.com: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210716005296/en/

Contacts

Gordon McLean
Senior Financial Analyst

+1 908 439 2200, ext. 5304
gordon.mclean@ambest.com

Robert Raber
Director
+1 908 439 2200, ext. 5696
robert.raber@ambest.com

Christopher Sharkey
Manager, Public Relations
+1 908 439 2200, ext. 5159
christopher.sharkey@ambest.com

Jim Peavy
Director, Communications
+1 908 439 2200, ext. 5644
james.peavy@ambest.com

EEO-1 Deadline For 2019 & 2020 Now Extended to August 23, 2021

Employers now have some extra time to submit equal employment opportunity (EEO-1) workforce data from 2019 and 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced on June 28, 2021. These reports were previously due by July 19, 2021. Employers now have until Aug. 23, 2021, to complete their submissions.

The EEOC’s collection of this data, the portal for which opened on April 26, 2021, had been delayed numerous other times due to the coronavirus pandemic. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the EEO-1 Report is usually due by March 31 every year.

EEO-1 Reporting Background

The EEO-1 Report is an annual survey that requires certain employers to submit data about their workforces by race or ethnicity, gender and job category. The EEOC uses this data to enforce federal anti-discrimination laws.

Employers Subject to EEO-1

Reporting In general, a private-sector employer is subject to EEO-1 reporting if it:

  • Has 100 or more employees;
  • Has 15-99 employees and is part of a group of employers with 100 or more employees; or
  • Is a federal contractor with 50 or more employees and a contract of $50,000 or more.

Employers that are subject to EEO-1 reporting now have until Aug. 23, 2021, to submit data from 2019 and 2020.

Employer Action Items

Employers subject to EEO-1 reporting requirements should ensure that they complete their EEO-1 submissions by Aug. 23, 2021. These employers should also review the EEOC’s home page and website dedicated to EEO data collections for additional information.

Important Dates

  • July 19, 2021: Prior deadline for submission of 2019 and 2020 workforce data.
  • Aug. 23, 2021: New deadline for employers subject to EEO-1 reporting to submit 2019 and 2020 workforce data.
  • March 31, 2022: Deadline for submission of EEO-1 data from 2021.

California Senate Rejects Workers’ Compensation Proposal

Close one!

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The California Senate on Thursday rejected a bill aimed at making it easier for health care employees to have hospitals pay their medical bills related to COVID-19 and other diseases that may have been contracted on the job — a move business groups said would have cost them too much money.

Companies pay their workers’ medical bills if they get sick or injured while on the job. In some cases, workers must prove their injury or illness is work-related to get the benefits. Last year, the California Legislature passed a law that assumed COVID-19 was work-related, shifting the burden to employers to prove it wasn’t.

Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

That law is scheduled to expire in 2023. A bill by Sen. Dave Cortese, a Democrat from San Jose, would have made it permanent. It would have also added other presumptions to the workers’ compensation law for hospital workers, including cancer under some circumstances, post traumatic stress disorder, certain respiratory diseases and muscle or ligament injuries.

The bill had to pass the Senate by Friday to have a chance at becoming law this year. But it fell short on Thursday before the Senate adjourned for the week. Lawmakers are not meeting Friday.

Cortese on Thursday agreed to change the bill to remove respiratory illnesses such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). But it wasn’t enough to get the bill passed.

Cortese said his goal was to give hospital workers, of whom he says 90% are women, the same protections as other medical professions, including emergency medical technicians.

“It really comes down to equal work, equal compensation,” he said.

Business groups, led by the California Chamber of Commerce, opposed the bill, labeling it a “job killer.”

“Such a drastic shift in the law will create an astronomical financial burden on healthcare employers and the system, creating an appreciable pact on the cost of healthcare at a time when we are trying to make healthcare more affordable,” Ashley Hoffman, policy advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce, wrote in a letter to lawmakers that was signed by 35 other groups.

The bill is part of a broader discussion in California about which coronavirus modifications should continue. Gov. Gavin Newsom said he will lift most of the state’s coronavirus rules on June 15.

The state Senate passed a bill earlier this week that would let restaurants continue to serve alcohol outside. The state Assembly passed a bill that would require local governments to keep letting people comment during their meetings by telephone or the internet. Both bills still must pass the other legislative chamber and be signed by the governor before becoming law.

Written by Adam Beam, Associated Press (June 3, 2021)

https://www.westport-news.com/news/article/California-Senate-rejects-workers-compensation-16223712.php