With such intense focus on a single communicable illness, it is easy to forget that we, as human beings, suffer from other illnesses.  Some medical journals are concerned that rates of serious medical conditions may rise as many would-be patients did not seek preventative care during much of 2020. And the trend continues.(https://healthcostinstitute.org/hcci-research/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-the-use-of-preventive-health-care.)

“Work from Home” will not affect occupational disability situations.  Obviously, people will still have to confront illness or injury even if they are working from home.  The risk for injury may be reduced somewhat since there is less travel, driving, and going in and out of public places, but illness still shows up.  Just think of how many people you may know who have passed away or become sick from something other than Covid-19 over these past months.

“Work from Home” may affect the manner in which insurers evaluate “Essential Duties” or “Main Duties” but not right now. Group disability plans and insurance contracts are often provided without comprehensive underwriting as in the case of individual disability insurance policies.  When an individual applies for disability insurance coverage, the insuring company typically requires blood tests, electrocardiograms, and body-mass index (BMI) measurements. The company reviews medical records, tax returns, and then issues the contract for a premium.  Group disability contracts, by contrast, typically insure occupational titles, not specific people.

The question arises now that people can work from home, will insurers claim that ill or injured workers are able to perform their jobs more easily with at-home accommodations. For the immediate future, insurers may be on the wrong end of this one. Since group insurance contracts often insist that a job must be evaluated on how it is performed – nationally as opposed to specifically – the impact of WFH may not be available as a defense to denying or terminating a disability claim.

The “Essential Duties” or “Substantial Duties” clauses of those contracts have not yet been updated to look at those jobs as they are being performed at home versus a standard work environment.  Furthermore, the guides for those jobs – like the Dictionary of Occupational Titles or ONET – have not yet been updated to account for this WFH period in our work history.  For a while, the insured stands to benefit.

Bottom Line: Work from Home (WFH) should not aid insurers in the short-term.  Group contracts may be re-thought if WFH is a trend that continues and as the work requirements for occupational titles is updated.

One of the remarkable aspects of the current health crisis for many Americans is that they are realizing – perhaps for the first time – just how important work is in their lives.  American society values work.  Often, our very sense of identity is based on what we do to make a living.  Think of the commonly asked question, “so what do you do?” In past centuries, in American society, a person was known by their actual occupation – in small towns, someone was “the baker” or “the tailor” or the “druggist” (a pharmacist).

Now, we are collectively required to stay at home, away from our jobs, for health reasons. This creates understandable unhappiness and anxiety. We also begin to feel the financial pressures of not being able to work. We think, will our work still be there when this is over?

Despite these challenges, we can learn and grow from this experience. At least in the short-term, this current situation may allow us to be more understanding of those, who, through no fault of their own, cannot work for health reasons.  We can begin to empathize more greatly with the occupationally disabled for whom day in, day out, their lives mirror our own at this point.  Think about that for a moment – the occupationally disabled live for years with this type of existence.  Most of us have only had to endure two weeks of it at this point.

For those who are able to work from home, we can be thankful for the gift of work.  We can be thankful that we have a place where our skills and abilities are able to be put to good use – to help others in whatever our chosen vocation may be.

We will get through this, and we will come out of this experience, wiser, stronger, and with a greater capacity to truly see the inherent dignity in the lives of all our fellow citizens.