Workers’ comp covers COVID-19, but the benefits are underutilized

Workers’ compensation insurance is an important safety net that protects the livelihoods of workers. In addition to accidents at work, it also covers novel coronavirus infection but few applications have been submitted for pandemic-related claims. The challenge is to ensure that everyone knows about the system.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the total number of coronavirus cases in Japan has reached 1.7 million since last year. However, only 20,000 insurance claims related to coronavirus infections have been filed, of which 16,000 have been approved so far.

In reality, the number of people who have been infected with the virus while working is likely to be much higher. However, not many people know that the insurance covers the infectious disease, and among those who do know, many are reluctant to submit an application because they cannot be certain that the infection was related to work.

It is hoped that the system of workers’ compensation will be operated flexibly so that infected employees will not be disadvantaged.

Workers’ compensation insurance is funded by insurance premiums from businesses. If employees get sick or injured due to work-related causes, their medical expenses will be covered and they can receive about 80% of their pay for missed work.

Since last year, the ministry has publicized the fact that infections are recognized as work-related if employees are infected while at work.

The ministry has clarified that medical and nursing care workers, who work in environments in which the risk of infection is high, will in principle be covered by workers’ compensation insurance. Other cases that are widely recognized as work-related incidents include infections in workplaces where people come into contact with others, such as retail stores and nursery schools, among other places, and ones where there have been multiple cases of infections.

When coronavirus infections of employees are recognized as work-related cases, special measures will be taken to ensure the premiums paid by businesses do not increase. The ministry plans to revise related ministry ordinances for that purpose within this fiscal year.

The system is designed so that if work-related accidents increase, the insurance premiums also increase to encourage companies to take measures to prevent such accidents.

However, the ministry intends to exclude the portion of benefits paid for coronavirus infections from the calculation of insurance premiums.

Under existing rules, medical institutions and nursing care facilities where many infections have occurred are required to pay higher premiums. Even in ordinary workplaces, coronavirus countermeasures would not completely eliminate the risk of infection. It is only natural that the ministry is making efforts to ease the burden.

The ministry must inform businesses of the special measures and actively encourage workers to apply for compensation for work-related cases so that the number of appropriate applications increases.

It is important to note that many COVID-19 patients suffer from aftereffects, even after they think they have recovered from the disease. The cause is unclear, but symptoms often include coughing, fatigue, shortness of breath, and loss of taste and smell.

The ministry said these aftereffects could be recognized as work-related cases. It needs to make efforts to publicize the information in an easy-to-understand manner, such as by providing specific examples.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 10, 2021.