The Illinois General Assembly has approved a bill lowering the burden of proof for essential workers who contract the coronavirus, making it easier for them to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
“Rebuttable Presumption” for Essential Workers with Coronavirus
On May 22, 2020, the Illinois House of Representatives passed House Bill 2455 by a vote of 113-2. It had already passed in the Senate a day earlier by a vote of 50-4. The bill will go to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has ten days from its passage to sign it into law.
The bill creates a “rebuttable presumption” that first responders and frontline workers who suffer injury stemming from COVID-19 contracted it as part of their jobs. The broader “labor omnibus” bill that contains the provision had been passed by the House last year. The Senate then changed it, adding the workers’ compensation language with an amendment.
The amendment extends the rebuttable presumption to police and fire personnel, emergency medical technicians and paramedics, healthcare providers, and corrections officers. It also applies to all essential workers as identified under Gov. Pritzker’s executive order on March 20, provided that those workers have to interact with the public or work with more than fifteen employees at their places of employment.
Additionally, the provision requires that workers demonstrate that they have received a positive diagnostic test either for COVID-19 or for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies for the rebuttable presumption to apply in court. A worker would not receive the presumption if that employee was working from home for fourteen days before testing positive for the coronavirus.
Under the same requirements of qualification and presumption, the bill also grants line-of-duty death benefits to the families of Chicago firefighters and police officers who die from the coronavirus. It further stipulates that an employee who contracts COVID-19 but does not establish the rebuttable presumption will not be precluded from filing for workers’ compensation benefits under the bill or the Workers’ Compensation Act.
The provision expires on Dec. 31.
Bill Codifies Earlier IWCC Rule
The bill is considered to be a codification of an emergency evidentiary rule filed in April by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC). That rule declared that COVID-19 was a prima facie workplace occupational disease, creating a rebuttable presumption that an essential worker who was exposed to the virus got exposed to it during work.
By doing so, Illinois became the first state in America to change its workers’ compensation law to presume that employees contracted COVID-19 on the job if they work at businesses deemed essential by the state’s stay-at-home order, such as healthcare, banks, and grocery stores.
Two industry groups then sued the IWCC in state court. They alleged that the IWCC exceeded its statutory authority under the Illinois Administrative Procedure Act when it approved the amendment and that it also violated both the Workers’ Occupational Disease Act and the Workers’ Compensation Act.
A judge in Sangamon County signed a temporary restraining order preventing the IWCC from implementing the rule. On May 4, the IWCC withdrew its change, reverting to existing law requiring workers to prove that their place of employment was the cause of their illness.
On the House floor, Democratic Rep. Jay C. Hoffman said that while the new law is a “Band-Aid” and “not a solution to the whole problem,” it is at least a “fair solution.”
”If an essential worker were to become infected and as a result have some health issues, it would be presumed that essential worker contracted COVID-19 at work,” Rep. Hoffman said. “However, that presumption could be rebutted if that employer is following the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] or the Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines for [personal protection equipment], social distancing, and the like. So, if you’re doing the right thing, that presumption would be rebutted.”
Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Fighting for You
At GWC Injury Lawyers LLC, we know that these are difficult times, with the coronavirus outbreak disrupting virtually every aspect of our lives.
If you are on the frontlines of this terrible pandemic, rest assured that GWC is here for you – available, reliable, and responsive to your needs. Our steadfast commitment to our clients has made us one of the premier Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury law firms in Illinois, with over $2 billion recovered in verdicts or settlements.
If you have been hurt while performing the duties of your job, contact GWC today to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our Chicago workers’ compensation lawyers. You may call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with a representative at any time.