On April 13, 2020, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced the enactment of an emergency amendment to the evidentiary rules governing practice before the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. This amendment applies to those workers who are most susceptible to COVID-19 exposure, including first responders, health care workers on the front lines, construction building trades, and those employees working in the many other “essential businesses” identified in Governor Pritzker’s Executive Order in Response to COVID-19 of March 20, 2020. These workers will now be able to obtain the full protections and benefits afforded to them under Illinois’ workers’ compensation and occupational disease laws.
Major Changes to Existing Illinois Law
The emergency amendment enacts a major change to existing law with important implications for “First Responders” and “Front-Line Workers”. The amendment states that “if the petitioner’s injury or period of incapacity resulted from exposure to the COVID-19 virus during a COVID-19-related state of emergency, the exposure will be rebuttably presumed to have arisen out of and in the course of the petitioner’s COVID-19 First Responder or Front-Line Work employment and, further, will be rebuttably presumed to be causally connected to the hazards or exposures of the petitioner’s COIVD-19 First Responder or Front-Line Worker employment.” These amended evidentiary rules are intended to eliminate the very difficult burden of proving, under prior rules, that a worker actually contracted COVID-19 while on the job. This amendment now provides that as long as a “First Responder” or “Front-Line Worker” is infected and was working during a COVID-19-related state of emergency, his/her illness is presumed to be causally connected to their employment.
This new law has been enacted for a very limited amount of time, specifically for the next 150 days while workers continue to support our economy as working in what our Governor has deemed to be “essential businesses” in our state. Those who continue to work for the benefit of the masses are now recognized for their courage and support, and in the event that they suffer from COVID-19 in the process, they are now protected by the law from further devastation beyond the obvious contraction of this potentially deadly virus.
Business organizations have already voiced their strong objections to the new law. They have voiced their position that the economic suffering that they are experiencing due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is enough suffering for them to endure. Taxing them with the financial burden of covering medical expenses and lost wages for their employees who have suffered illness as a result of their employment is simply too much to ask of big business. Instead, several employer and business-aligned organizations have sought to shift the burden of paying for medical bills to labor unions who provide costly health insurance to their members and their families and to shift the burden of providing financial support for affected workers to the State’s unemployment program.
At GWC, we commend the Governor for taking this action to protect “Front-Line Workers” and “First Responders” as they face the risks of potential exposure to COVID-19 while the rest of our state stays at home.
In light of this newly-enacted legislation, “First Responders” or “Front-Line Workers” who become injured or sick due to COVID-19 are now explicitly eligible for all of the important benefits provided under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act and the Illinois Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act, including weekly disability payments up to $1,549.07/week.
These welcome changes to our existing laws are reassuring and will go a long way towards ensuring that our essential workers are protected when we need them the most. For more information about this emergency amendment and for a full list of the essential workers covered, click here.
How to Ensure Essential Workers are Protected
While this emergency amendment specifically provides first responders with access to critical protections afforded under our state’s workers’ compensation and occupational disease laws, it is important to know what steps these workers need to take after being exposed to COVID-19 in order to ensure that they receive any of the appropriate benefits that they may be entitled to under the law.
With any potential workers’ compensation or occupational disease claim in Illinois, the injured worker must provide notice to their employer of any injury or illness, even if it is just a suspected illness. The law provides the injured worker with a total of 45 days to provide notice of a work-related illness to their employer. However, if you believe you have become ill after being exposed to COVID-19 while on the job, we recommend that you notify your employer IMMEDIATELY. Failure to provide timely notice to an employer can result in an absolute denial of your claim.
Additionally, it is also very important that you immediately quarantine yourself in-home and seek medical attention as soon as possible if you suspect you have become ill after being exposed to COVID-19. Please keep this in mind if you start to experience any of the symptoms associated with COVID-19, which includes fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, and loss of taste or smell.
Given the recent changes and precautions that many health care providers are currently implementing as a result of the pandemic, we recommend calling your medical provider for further instructions before scheduling an appointment. If you are experiencing life-threatening symptoms and you urgently require medical attention, please call 911.
GWC Stands with First Responders and Healthcare Workers
We are all forever indebted to the courageous workers who continue to put their own health at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. These brave people have placed themselves on the front lines in a war against a potentially deadly virus and have done so at a time when we are all dependent upon our healthcare providers to provide much needed medical assistance to our sick citizens, and upon our First Responders to protect our families as only our police and fire department officers can do. Given their sacrifice, the least we can do as a society is to ensure that if any of these dedicated workers contracts COVID-19 while working on the job, they should be taken care of.