Essential workers in Illinois who contract COVID-19 on the job may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Employers have a duty of care to ensure that workers are protected from known hazards at work, including limiting exposure to COVID-19.
Laws Dictate Maintaining Safe Workplaces, But What about COVID-19?
Healthcare workers, grocery store clerks, bus drivers, first responders, and other essential workers who are exposed to the public are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Illinois workers’ compensation generally covers work injuries and illnesses.
An employee does not have to prove that the employer was at fault for his or her work-related injury or illness to claim workers’ compensation benefits in Illinois. Since the program is an exclusive remedy, workers are usually prohibited from filing civil suits for employer negligence. When employers fail to implement safety measures recommended by the CDC, OSHA, and state and local authorities to reduce the risk of COVID transmission, however, they may be able to be held liable for the injuries and deaths that result.
Increased Access to Workers’ Compensation for Stricken Workers
The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission withdrew a rule in May to create a rebuttable presumption of compensable injury or occupational disease for front-line workers who contract COVID-19 on the job after business groups sued because of fears of increased insurance rates. On June 5, 2020, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law protections for essential workers who, under certain conditions, contract COVID-19 on the job.
Even with the new law in place, there still remains a high bar for workers to prove they contracted the virus at work. Under the law, employers can rebut claims if:
- They can prove they were following the latest public health guidelines for two weeks prior to the worker contracting COVID-19.
- Their employees worked from home for at least two weeks before receiving the COVID-19 diagnosis.
- They can prove that the employees contracted COVID-19 outside of work.
Death Benefits for First Responders
The new law also provides death benefits for first responders, including firefighters and police officers who were infected with COVID-19. It must be determined that the worker contracted the virus between March 9 and December 31, 2020. The date of contraction is whatever came first, the date the worker was diagnosed with the virus or its antibodies or they were no longer able to work because of COVID-19 symptoms that were later confirmed to be the virus.