The Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) provided COVID-19 cost relief for employers with accepted COVID-19 claims in 2020 and 2021. This cost relief will conclude for accepted COVID-19 workplace injuries that occur on or after Jan. 1, 2022. Accepted COVID-19 workplace injuries that occur on or prior to Dec. 31, 2021 will still be eligible for cost relief, which means the WCB will cover claim costs.
“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 the WCB’s 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 cost relief for COVID-19 claims was funded through the WCB’s occupational disease reserve as a temporary measure to support Saskatchewan employers. When the WCB’s cost relief for COVID-19 claims came into effect on March 2, 2020, vaccines were not yet approved or available and many safety measures that exist today were not in place.
The pandemic landscape has changed this year. In 2021, vaccines are readily available and vaccination or negative testing policies are now in place in many locations. These steps have helped reduce the overall risk of catching COVID-19 in the workplace. This is why, after almost two years, the WCB has decided it is time to wrap up cost relief for accepted COVID-19 workplace injury claims.
“We recognize that we have been dealing with extraordinary circumstances in the province and we have supported employers to help lift some pressures they were facing,” said Germain. “While these temporary measures are wrapping up after two years, employers and workers will still be able to submit eligible COVID-19 workplace injury claims. We are exploring the idea of temporarily offering cost relief for adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccinations.”
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 the worker’s exposure and their employment, and they contract COVID-19. Based on WCB policy Injuries – Communicable Disease (POL 02/2010), the following conditions must be met:
- There is confirmed exposure to the disease in the workplace;
- The time period that the illness is contracted is in close proximity to the confirmed workplace exposure and;
- The nature of employment creates a greater risk of exposure for the worker than to the general population.
“The COVID-19 pandemic impacted, and continues to impact, the way we do business across this province. We applaud the health and safety efforts of people around the province,” said the WCB’s chair Gord Dobrowolsky. “Working together, we can all contribute to keep workers safe on the job.”
In 2020, the Government of Saskatchewan had announced various measures to support provincial businesses during the COVID-19 crisis. To provide further relief for Saskatchewan employers, the WCB implemented a number of temporary initiatives, including:
- Providing more than $4.3 million in cost relief related to the 1,302 accepted claims from the COVID-19 pandemic, as of Nov. 5, 2021.
- Waiving interest on unpaid premiums and removing penalties applied in 2020 for late filing, late registration and underestimate penalties.
- Offering payment plans for employers and suspending payroll audits for a time in 2020.
- Holding the 2021 average premium rate the same as 2020. The WCB held the 2021 average premium rate at $1.17 rather than raising it to the calculated rate of $1.23. Employers are expected to save more than $13 million in WCB premiums in 2021 as a result of holding the rate.
Many of the WCB’s employer relief measures, with the exception of the COVID-19 cost relief, wrapped up on July 31, 2020.
The WCB has continued to monitor the situation and made decisions that balance the needs of employers and injured workers.
Frequently asked questions for employers on COVID-19 cost relief and COVID-19 workplace injury claims are available at www.wcbsask.com.