Disability lawyers can expect continued demand in 2022 from various COVID-related issues.

We have recently written articles about the denial of disability insurance claims related to “long-haul” COVID-19 symptoms. The “shadow” pandemic includes other lingering health issues that will affect short-term disability (STD) and long-term disability (LTD) insurance claims.

According to the 2021 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey, more than half of employer benefits plan sponsors said they anticipate different health and wellness challenges due to more employees working from home. The leading challenges anticipated:

  • More mental-health claims from stress/isolation due to the pandemic (68%)
  • Anxiety among employees returning to the workplace because they are unsure of colleagues’ vaccination status (65%)
  • More musculoskeletal issues from poor ergonomics, due to working from home (51%).

Julie Gaudry of RBC Insurance says mental-health related issues are their main area of disability claims. “There’s much discussion on the added mental-health challenges related to the last 18 months that could lead to an increase in claims beyond what we’ve experienced to date.” While the percentage of long-term mental-health disability claims is not significantly higher than in previous years (about 34%) these claims have been rising among those aged 18 to 35, to 49% so far in 2021.

According to Elena Palumbo-Sergnese of the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan, “As the boundary between work and home blurred during the pandemic and people found themselves juggling multiple responsibilities simultaneously, many individuals in the workforce were coping with new levels of stress and mental-health challenges.”

Benefits Canada also polled two hundred webinar attendees who sponsor employer benefit plans about their plans to reopen their workplaces. More than half (54%) said they were planning a phased return to the workplace in 2021. The vast majority (84%) planned a hybrid work model with both remote and physical workplace options. However, 13% said they would require everyone back in the physical workplace; only three per cent said they were not returning to a workplace at all. Asked if they would make vaccinations mandatory for all employees, the vast majority (93%) said No, though two-thirds would strongly recommend that employees get vaccinated.

Lianne Clarke at Cowan Insurance Group noted that employees not used to working at home and do not have ergonomic work setups could face the onset of neck, back, shoulder and arm issues, which could lead to STD or LTD claims for musculoskeletal issues.

While mental-health issues have usually tied with musculoskeletal conditions in the prevalence of STD claims, it is typically the leading cause in LTD claims, says Darren Harris, director at Willis Towers Watson. “It can also be one of the costliest claims as mental-health related disability leaves are complicated in terms of getting people back to work.”

Pandemic restrictions limited access to health-care services, including regular management and treatment required by those suffering from chronic conditions. Diana Sherifali of McMaster University’s School of Nursing anticipates many employees will come forward with complications due to missing these regular services. According to a survey by RBC Insurance, two-thirds (63%) of employees with a chronic health condition said the inability to visit a doctor or clinic during the pandemic negatively affected their health. Forty percent of all working Canadians said they experienced a decline in their physical health during the pandemic.

The Canadian Life & Health Insurance Association’s 2020 Fact Book ranks the leading benefits claims paid out by insurers in the first year of pandemic. $420 million was paid for psychology-related benefits, an increase of 24% over 2019. Another $150 million in disability claims was paid out, higher than the original 2020 projection, to support employees while they recovered from the virus.

Lawyers who represent plaintiffs in disability insurance claims can anticipate a continuation of COVID-related cases in 2022, whether from “long-haul” or “shadow” conditions.

We hope that the information we provided was helpful. If we can answer any other questions that you might have about Litigation Loans or ATE Insurance, please contact us at 1-877-342-9590 or email our President, Jeffrey Gottheil at jgottheil@nudorra.com . We look forward to speaking with you soon.