Does Workers’ Comp Cover COVID-19 in Illinois?
We are a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and even though vaccines are providing some much-needed light at the end of the tunnel, the risk of infection, illness, or death remains rampant.
This is especially true for the tens of millions of American workers who do not have the option of working remotely and must show up to their workplaces every day. You may be one of these hard-working folks, closely interacting with co-workers, customers, patients, and others, putting yourself at greater risk of exposure to the virus.
Indeed, hundreds of thousands of Americans, including a disproportionate number of first responders and frontline workers, have become sick or passed away because they contracted the COVID-19 while on the job.
But due to an Illinois law passed last year, many of these dedicated employees in the state should have an easier time obtaining workers’ compensation benefits if they get diagnosed with COVID-19
Illinois Law Presumes That First Responders and Frontline Workers Contracted COVID-19 While On The Job
When workers in Illinois get sick or injured while on the job, they are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. This includes employees who contract COVID-19 while engaging in work-related activities.
However, employees usually have the burden of proving the connection between their injury or illness and their job. In many circumstances, such as a fall from a ladder in a warehouse that results in broken bones, this isn’t a particularly difficult task. But for a highly contagious and easily transmitted virus like COVID-19, it can be a tall order for an employee to prove that they acquired their illness in the workplace or on the job, rather than during a trip to the gas station, a ride on the bus, or from a family member or acquaintance.
Acknowledging this challenge along with the increased risk of exposure faced by frontline workers and first responders, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed HB2455 into law in June 2020. Amending the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act and the Illinois Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act, the law established a “rebuttable presumption” that any frontline worker or first responder who was exposed to and contracted the coronavirus between March 9, 2020, and June 30, 2021 did so during the course of their employment.
For purposes of workers’ compensation claims, this means that covered workers do not have to present proof, at least initially, that they contracted the virus at work in order to secure workers’ compensation benefits. But the “rebuttable” part means that an employer can challenge the claim and an employee’s right to benefits if it can prove that:
- The employee was working from home or at an alternative remote site, was on leave, or a combination of such arrangements for 14 or more consecutive days immediately before the employee’s alleged COVID-19 related exposure or injury; or,
- The employer stringently followed all COVID-19 safety practices and guidance, as issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Illinois Department of Public Health for at least 14 days prior to the employee’s coronavirus diagnosis; or
- The identified employee was exposed to COVID-19 from an alternate source.
If an employer proves any of the foregoing, the burden shifts back to the employee to demonstrate that their employment was “a causative factor” that contributed to their contraction of coronavirus.
Who Does The Rebuttable Presumption of Work-Related COVID Infection Apply To?
Healthcare workers and/or law enforcement personnel receive the benefit of the rebuttable presumption. So too do individuals employed by “essential businesses and operations” as defined in the governor’s March 20, 2020 Executive Order 2020-10, but only if their job requires them to interact with members of the public or they work in a location with more than 15 employees. This includes, among others, workers employed by:
- Grocery stores
- Convenience stores
- Gas stations
- Food banks
- Media outlets
- Transporation providers
- Hardware stores
- Educational institutions
- Manufacturing facilities
What About Everybody Else?
While it now may be easier for frontline workers and first responders to obtain workers’ compensation benefits if they get sick with COVID-19, any covered Illinois employee who believes that they were exposed or infected while on the job may make a claim for benefits. But such individuals bear the burden of proving that their illness arose out of, occurred in the course of, or was causally connected to their job. As noted, that can be a challenge.
While the workers’ compensation system may seem simple in theory, the reality is that the claims process can be extremely complicated. One misstep can cost an injured worker tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits.
That is why so many injured workers seek the help of an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer. If your employer is not holding up its end of the deal and ignoring its legal obligations, you need a skilled workers’ compensation attorney. You need a lawyer who understands the complexity of Illinois’ workers’ compensation laws, rules, and regulations. You need a lawyer who knows how to get you the benefits you deserve and has the tenacity and determination to get the job done.
Questions About COVID-19 and Workers’ Comp Benefits? Speak for Free With an Experienced Lake County Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Today
If you or a loved one has fallen ill with COVID-19, it can be a frightening ordeal. But if you believe that you caught the virus while at work, you have rights, including valuable workers’ compensation benefits that can help you navigate this uncertain time. Please call Lake County workers’ compensation lawyer Kirk Moyer at (847) 244-3444 to arrange for your FREE initial consultation to discuss your situation.