Report Highlights COVID-19 Work-Related Claims for Texas

Report Highlights COVID-19 Work-Related Claims for Texas

Insurance carriers reported 50,460 COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims and 269 fatalities in Texas since the beginning of the pandemic through Aug. 1, 2021, according to preliminary data released by the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation.

According to DWC, more than $61.7 million has been paid during that period on COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims. A majority (65%) of the claims involved first responders, correctional officers and social services workers.

The $61.7 million paid in claims consists of the following:

  • $21.8 million in employer salary continuation
  • $18.2 million in hospital facility services
  • $16.2 million in workers’ compensation income benefits
  • $4.3 million medical professional services
  • $823,513 in death benefits
  • $248,143 in pharmacy services
  • $152,362 in burial benefits

The DWC data were compiled from data reported to DWC as of Aug. 1, 2021, on COVID-19 claims. DWC also conducted a data call with 74 insurance carriers to determine how many workers’ compensation claims resulted in a positive test or diagnosis as of June 30, 2021, and the disposition of those claims.

Slightly more than half (52%) of claims were processed by the state of Texas and its political subdivisions acting as insurance carriers. Commercial insurance carriers processed the remaining 48%.

According to DWC, 59% of the COVID-19 claims involved an injured employee who tested positive or was diagnosed with COVID-19. Insurance carriers accepted slightly more than half (51%) of COVID-19 positive test claims. However, despite nearly 14,000 denials of COVID-19 claims with positive tests or diagnoses, only 112 disputes had been filed with DWC as of Aug. 1, 2021.

DWC also compiled information about workers’ compensation claims related to COVID-19 vaccine reactions. According to DWC, insurers reported 513 vaccine reaction claims between Dec. 15, 2020, and Aug. 1, 2021.

The DWC factsheet is available here.

Third Special Session Convenes

The Texas Legislature convened on Monday, Sept. 20, for the third special session of 2021. The session will run for 30 days. Only issues included in the special call by the governor are eligible for consideration. 

The Legislature’s once-a-decade task of redistricting, the drawing of new district lines for members of Congress, the Legislature and the State Board of Education, heads the list of the items within the current call by the governor. Other issues included would allow legislation to:

  • Allocate $16 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds.
  • Limit residential property appraisal increases.
  • Allow businesses to mandate face masks or proof of vaccination.
  • Prohibit government agencies from mandating vaccinations.
  • Add an exception for sexual assault or incest to the abortion restrictions passed earlier this year.


In addition, the governor’s call includes legislation to reconsider issues including bail reform, animal abuse and transgender youth participation in school sports. 

The first special session, held in July, came to a halt when Democratic members of the House left Texas in an effort to stop a bill amending the state’s voting laws. Gov. Abbott then convened a second special session, during which the Legislature passed the voting measure, prohibited schools from teaching critical race theory, and appropriated $1.8 billion for border security.

TAN will monitor the special session but does not expect any legislation related to workers’ compensation and nonsubscription to be considered.

Nonsubscriber Employer Forum Set for October 13

The Texas Alliance of Nonsubscribers (TAN) will host its 2021 annual meeting, “An Employer Forum” on Wednesday, October 13, 2021, from 1:30-3:00 PM (CDT). Due to Covid-related concerns, the meeting will be held online via Zoom. It is free to TAN members. 

The Forum will include TAN’s always popular legal panel that will cover issues in the workplace such as vaccine mandates, return to work considerations, and other emerging legal issues of interest to Texas nonsubscribers. It will also feature a panel discussion on medical trends in nonsubscription as a result of COVID and an insightful legislative update on this year’s legislative sessions from TAN’s experienced government relations team at the state Capitol.

To register for the meeting click here.

New Laws of Interest to Employers: Sexual Harassment, Firearms and State Military Duty

Texas employers should be aware of new legislation adopted by the state Legislature this year that, among other things, could increase the number of workplace sexual harassment suits filed and require employers to post new signage if they want to prohibit possession of firearms on their premises.

Two separate bills signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott expand the number of potential workplace sexual harassment suits. SB 45 amends the Texas Labor Code to allow all employers to be sued for sexual harassment. Previously, organizations with fewer than 15 employees were exempt. Additionally, HB 21 expands the statute of limitations for employees to make sexual harassment claims to 300 days after the alleged incident. The previous standard was 180 days. Both changes took effect Sept. 1.

Also taking effect Sept. 1 was legislation allowing most Texans aged 21 or older to carry holstered handguns without a permit or any training. Employers are still allowed to prohibit possession of firearms on their premises but must post additional signage in English and Spanish. Employers still cannot prevent workers from keeping a firearm they legally possess in their personal, locked vehicle in a company parking lot.

Lawmakers also adopted legislation that affords employees more rights upon their return to work after being called to state military duty. Currently, employees called to active duty or training with the state military must be reinstated when their duty is complete without any loss of seniority or other benefits. However, the only recourse available to employees alleging a violation of the law has been to file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission. SB 484 amends the state code to allow employees to hire a lawyer and file a civil suit if they believe their work status has been negatively affected by their military call-up.

State Lawmakers Make Minor Changes to Cannabis Laws

Texas lawmakers made small tweaks to the state’s medical marijuana program during the 2021 legislative session, adopting two changes to the state medical-use low-THC cannabis statute that took effect Sept. 1. The changes expand the pool of people who can be prescribed low levels of THC for medical reasons and increase the amount of THC allowed in low-THC cannabis products to 1%, from 0.5%.

Low-THC cannabis previously could only be prescribed in Texas for a limited number of medical conditions. The new statute adds post-traumatic stress disorder and all forms of cancer to the qualifying conditions.

THC is the ingredient in marijuana that can make a user feel high, however, frequent use over time can cause a positive test result for marijuana. It is possible that employers will see an increase in accommodation requests for users of low-THC cannabis for medical purposes.

Forty-seven states currently have some form of medical-use marijuana program. Overall, 18 states and the District of Columbia allow recreational-use marijuana. Only Kansas, Nebraska and Idaho do not allow for any kind of marijuana use.

DWC’s Cassie Brown Named Commissioner of Insurance for Texas

Gov. Greg Abbott has appointed Cassie Brown as the commissioner of insurance for a term set to expire on Feb. 1, 2023. 

Cassie Brown of Austin has served as the commissioner of the Division of Workers’ Compensation since June 2018. Previously, she served as deputy commissioner for regulatory policy at the Texas Department of Insurance. In addition, she served as a policy adviser to Gov. Rick Perry. Brown received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from St. Edward’s University, and attended the Governor’s Executive Development Program at The University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs.

With Brown’s departure from her role leading the Division of Workers’ Compensation, the governor will now have the opportunity to appoint a new commissioner for the DWC. No timeline has been announced for making that appointment.

New Poll Shows Texans Are Split on Gov. Abbott, New Laws, and More

With over a year left until the 2022 midterm elections, Texas voters are nearly evenly split on their approval of Gov. Greg Abbott, with 45% approving or strongly approving of the way Gov. Abbott is handling his job as governor, and 44% disapproving or strongly disapproving. That’s according to a new poll by The Dallas Morning News/UT-Tyler that surveyed a random sample of 1,148 registered Texas voters during the second week of September. The margin of error for the study is +/-2.9%. 

Among Republicans, Abbott’s support remains strong, with 63-70% of Republican primary voters reporting that they would vote for his reelection over a challenger, depending on how the question is asked. Abbott may have competition for the seat from actor Matthew McConaughey, however. Although McConaughey has not announced his candidacy, voters indicated they would prefer him over the incumbent governor by a margin of 44% to 35%. In a matchup between former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Abbott, voters favored Abbott 42% to 37%. According to The Dallas Morning News, Abbott has slipped in percentage points relative to both candidates in the past two months.

Just 36% of voters approve or strongly approve of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s job performance, and 35% approve of legally embroiled Attorney General Ken Paxton’s, while nearly a third (32% each) disapproved or strongly disapproved. Meanwhile, 38% of voters had a very or somewhat favorable impression of Sen. John Cornyn, compared to 44% for Sen. Ted Cruz. This may be due to voters’ greater familiarity with Cruz, who also had a significantly higher rate of very or somewhat unfavorable impressions (26% for Cornyn versus 42% for Cruz). 

Tellingly, 59% of Democrats and 39% of Republicans think that Texas is headed in the wrong direction. This is likely influenced by voters’ views on this year’s legislative session, which brought restrictions on abortion access, allowed permitless handgun carry, and restricted K-12 teachers from discussing so-called “critical race theory.” Of voters surveyed, 48% believe that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, while 50% believe it should not be. On the issue of permitless carry, 34% support while 50% oppose. And 56% strongly or somewhat agree that K-12 teachers should be permitted to discuss how historical examples of discrimination in our laws apply to inequalities today, compared to just 27% who strongly or somewhat disagree. 

The survey also asked about voter views on the new election law, redistricting, the Texas-Mexico border wall, masks and vaccines, national politicians, and more. The full survey results can be found here.

The Changing Landscape of Employee Benefits

After a delay caused by the COVID pandemic, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) has released its Benefits Summary report for 2020. The report, based on a survey of 2,500 HR professionals, looked at how companies have adjusted their range of benefits in response to the pandemic.

The report found that:

  • 78% of respondents have expanded telework opportunities.
  • 43% now provide access to telemedicine services. 
  • Nearly 40% offer leave to care for children.
  • 25% now have mental health services available for employees.

Respondents also ranked the six most important benefits they could offer to employees. Health care topped the list at 91%. Retirement came in lowest at 55%, down from a second-place ranking just a year earlier. Other benefits ranked were flexible work and leave time (both at 83%), wellness benefits (62%), and being a family-friendly workplace (76%).

The survey highlighted several other notable trends:

  • Family leave: In response to the pandemic, many employers expanded the kinds of leave available for dealing with family situations. Fifty-three percent say they now offer paid paternity leave, up from 34% in 2019. Offering paid paternity leave, parental leave and family leave all went up significantly as well.
  • Wellness programs: While wellness programs have been promoted in recent years as a cost-effective way to reduce injuries, workplace stress and health care costs, the pandemic has reduced access to in-person programs such as gyms, on-site flu vaccinations and doctor visits. As a result, many offerings are transitioning to a virtual format, including health risk assessments, personal counseling and meditation sessions.
  • Financial and education assistance: Tuition assistance for employees and nonretirement financial education both declined significantly from 2019 to 2020. It should be noted, however, that many companies are now offering tuition assistance as a signing bonus to recruit new employees.

A study done in 2020 by The Hartford also highlighted the importance of offering a family-friendly benefits package. The survey polled employees in March and again in June of that year. While most still saw workload as a major source of stress, the percentage of those who ranked it as a top-three stress factor dropped from 45% in March to 31% in June. Over that same period, caring for family members, debt worries, and concern about the general social and economic climate all went up.

Many companies are moving away from in-person benefits review and enrollment sessions. Pandemic-related restrictions have accelerated this trend. At the same time, many employees admit that many of the benefits offered are hard to understand, and that the online or virtual format can make it difficult to get answers and make wise choices. 

The financial wellness software provider suggests the following ways companies can improve the online enrollment process: 

  • Send shorter, bite-sized benefits communications over a longer period of time rather than the traditional method of putting everything into an employee handbook or providing it through a one-time annual email. 
  • Test different methods of communication, like text messaging, phone calls and instant messaging in addition to emails or meetings. Where possible, poll your employees to see which methods they find most comprehensive and easiest to use.
  • To find out which communication method works best for your employees, use online analytics tools to track participation, open and click rates.

Despite an Extended COVID Pandemic, Gallup Survey Finds Worker Satisfaction With Safety, Co-Workers Up From 2020

Despite COVID-19 cases being much higher than they were one year ago, American workers are currently more satisfied with the physical safety conditions of their workplace than they were then.

An annual survey conducted by Gallup found that in 2021, 72% of Americans who work full- or part-time report being “completely satisfied” with both their safety on the job and their relationships with co-workers. That percentage is the same as in 2018 and 2019, however, in 2020, the percentage of workers expressing complete satisfaction with safety conditions had dropped to 65%. 

Gallup attributed the increased satisfaction to the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and employer mandates that workers be vaccinated or tested regularly to ensure a safe working environment. Recent Gallup data show 56% of Americans favor companies requiring employees to show proof of vaccination at their office or work site.

The survey was conducted Aug. 2-17.

Majorities of workers are completely satisfied with six other job dimensions in addition to physical safety at work and relations with co-workers. These include job security (67%), flexibility of hours (65%), boss or supervisor (63%), workload (55%), amount of vacation time (52%), and recognition received for accomplishments (52%).

On the other end of the spectrum, 32% of workers reported not being completely satisfied with the level of work-related stress. Additionally, less than half of workers are completely satisfied with the retirement plan offered by their employer (38%), the money they earn (38%), their chances for promotion (42%), and their health insurance benefits (45%).

The complete poll is available here.

New Approaches to Workplace Safety

An internet search will generate numerous sites telling you “Ways to Improve Workplace Safety,” but the suggestions often come down to the same general practices.

While the basics of maintaining a safe working environment may not have changed, modern technology and COVID-19 have greatly altered where and how we work. This is leading many businesses to rethink how they approach workplace safety.

  • Be broad-minded in what you consider workplace safety. For example, training in cybersecurity can be considered a workplace safety protocol. Consider an employee using a company credit card at a gas station, only to find later that the card number was stolen using a card skimmer. Likewise, an employee opening a phishing email can lead to a hacker stealing personnel data such as home addresses and phone numbers.
  • Encourage office teleworkers to follow the same workplace safety measures (cybersecurity, proper ergonomics) that they would use at the office. Be aware that in some circumstances, repetitive stress or lower-back injuries suffered by work-at-home employees may be covered by workers’ compensation, just as they may be for injuries resulting from work at the office.
  • The pandemic has led many workers not only to change jobs, but to shift into a completely new field or industry. For this reason, pay particular attention to new workers. According to the Institute for Work and Health, workers who have been in a job for a month or less are three times more likely to suffer a lost-time injury than those who have been in the same job for more than a year.
  • Consider providing employees with a safety checklist and incident reporting phone app. Having employees go through a safety checklist when they get to the site or before using dangerous equipment can greatly reduce the chance of an injury. Making it available as a phone app will help make running the checklist a routine part of daily work.

TDI-DWC Offers More Than 400 Free Videos for Workplace Education and Safety

The Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation, has compiled links to more than 400 free online safety videos that can be used to help educate employees. The videos, on topics ranging from active threats to welding, were prepared mainly by governmental, educational and safety organizations and are primarily hosted on YouTube.

A complete list of topics covered is available on the TDI website by clicking here.


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