Doctors report increases of hand, arm, shoulder, back and neck pain that they attribute to poor ergonomics due to office workers working at makeshift at-home workstations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Should these conditions be covered by workers’ compensation? Absolutely. Repetitive use injuries from white-collar work are covered by workers’ compensation. Work duties need only contribute to, combine with or even just accelerate a medical condition to be covered by workers’ compensation. Granted an injury from poor ergonomics from an office worker could take a bit of lawyering, but make no mistake these injuries should be covered by workers’ compensation.
But will there be an upsurge in claims from ergonomic injuries due to pandemic-related remote work? I’m not so sure.
Back in 2019, I wrote a post about why office workers don’t claim workers’ compensation for hand and wrist injuries. Even in a formal office setting, overuse injuries can occur. I came up with five reasons why office workers often don’t make workers’ compensation claims. In short, the reasons I came up with that office workers don’t claim workers compensation were 1) Belief injuries aren’t serious 2) Unaware that repetitive use injuries covered by workers’ compensation 3) Unclear about causation standards 4) Stigma of workers’ compensation benefits and 5) Costs of work injuries shifted onto privte insurance and short term disability.
I would add two more reasons here in pandemic-ravaged 2021:
White collar workers are unaware of workers’ compensation
If you are blue collar worker, odds are that if you haven’t had a work injury yourself you know someone who has had one. But if you work in a white-collar job and most of your friends and family do the same, odds are you don’t know anyone who has claimed workers’ compensation. Not surprisingly, The Atlantic article that reported on the increase of occupational injuries from poor ergonomics made zero mention of workers compensation as a way to cover the cost of a work injury.
The irony here is that while white-collar workers tend to have more formal education than their blue-collar counterparts, they tend to be less educated about their entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits. Many workers are also confused about the differences between private disability and workers’ compensation benefits.
But even workers who know their rights when it comes to workers’ compensation they may decide not to claim benefits for other reasons.
Fear of retaliation in a rough economy
Many workers are afraid to turn in workers compensation claims because they fear getting fired. In Nebraska, and in most other states, it is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against you for filing a workers’ compensation claim, but it happens anyway. I think the fear of job loss increases when unemployment increases. Many people who are still employed are rightfully grateful to still be employed. But this gratitude can lead to a don’t-rock-the-boat mentality. As a result, injured workers can end up incurring thousands of dollars in unpaid medical expenses and lost wages, that should be covered under workers’ compensation.
Essential worker or not, if you’re still working your job is important
The pandemic has spread the term “essential worker” into everyday use. But some workers who fall outside of that essential worker category may feel their jobs are less important. I think this is particularly true for office workers who aren’t subjected to the same hazards as health care, delivery, retail and food workers. That feeling that your work is either less important or less hazardous may lead some workers to downplay their injuries and not make workers’ compensation claims. Workers compensation claims have always been stigmatized, but it seems that the pandemic created a new variant on the stigma.