With information surrounding the COVID-19 virus seemingly in a constant state of change, it is difficult for many essential workers to determine what their rights are, and more specifically, whether they have a workers’ compensation claim. This article seeks to explain how the rules in Illinois have changed over the last several months and examine the current state of the law by answering some questions about workers’ compensation for workers who have contracted COVID-19 while on the job.
How does rebuttable presumption apply to Illinois COVID-19 related workers’ compensation claims?
The Illinois Worker’s Compensation Commission (IWCC) is the government agency tasked with administering workers’ compensation claims and arbitrations. It also has the authority to establish and change certain workers’ compensation rules. On April 16, 2020, an emergency amendment to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation rules was issued. This emergency amendment created a rebuttable presumption which established that essential workers who contracted the virus were exposed to it at work, and therefore, had a workers’ compensation claim for treatment and time off work related to the illness.
A rebuttable presumption is one that can be “overturned only if the evidence contradicting it is true and if a reasonable person…could logically conclude from the evidence that the presumption is no longer valid.” What this means in this context is that if an essential worker became ill with the virus, there would immediately be a presumption that they were infected at work and in the course and scope of their employment, thus, establishing the foundation for a workers’ compensation claim. In this scenario, the employer could then rebut this presumption by demonstrating that a spouse of the employee was also an essential worker and was positive for the virus while none of their other employees tested positive.
Why was the Illinois worker’s comp emergency amendment struck down?
Unsurprisingly, there was substantial push back from employers regarding the emergency amendment. Just weeks after it was initially passed, it was struck down.
The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association filed suit in Sangamon County to block the emergency amendment. The Sangamon County Court found that in passing the emergency rule, which created the presumption that essential employees who became sick with COVID-19 contracted it in the course of their employment, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission exceeded its rulemaking authority under the Illinois Administrative Procedure Act and the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. Id. The Court held that the commission could not create substantive rights, only procedural rules – only the Illinois legislature could establish such a substantive right. Id.
With this loss, essential employees were essentially required to prove that they tested positive for the virus and that they very likely contracted the virus at work. Typically, this would mean that the employee would need a positive viral test and have a coworker who they interacted with who also tested positive. Employees would likely also need to show that they were not exposed to the virus at home – meaning that other family members had tested negative or had not exhibited symptoms prior to the petitioner’s positive test.
Was the presumption restored to protect first responders and front-line workers in Illinois?
Following the Sangamon County ruling, the Illinois legislature stepped in to fill the gap that the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission could not. On June 5, 2020, Governor Pritzker signed into law HB 2455 which created a rebuttable presumption of workers’ compensation coverage for first responders and front-line workers. The law, HB 2455, applies to all employees who are first responders or front-line workers and includes healthcare workers, law enforcement officials, as well as those employed by essential businesses and operations as defined in Executive Order 2020-10. Id. Executive Order 2020-10 extends to, among others, those employed by grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, restaurants, and manufacturers. Id.
Are laws to protect essential workers still active in Illinois?
On February 26, 2021, Governor Pritzker signed House Bill 4276 for COVID-19 occupational disease claims in Illinois into law which extends the application of the original rebuttable presumption legislation put in place in June, 2020. It continues to affirm that front line or essential workers (as defined by the Executive Order from March 2020) alleging COVID-19 exposure and contraction will be rebuttably presumed to have been exposed at work. The law also extends the application of the original emergency amendment to now include all cases where the diagnosis was made on or after March 9, 2020 to on or before June 30, 2021. This includes any claims that were made between the original December 31, 2020 expiration date and when House Bill 4276 was passed into law.
House Bill 4276 also amended the Chicago Police and Chicago Firefighter Articles of the Illinois Pension Code to include a rebuttable presumption that the death of a policeman or fireman from COVID-19 was a fatal injury while in active service if the policeman or fireman was exposed to and contracted COVID-19 on or after March 9, 2020 and on or before June 30, 2021.
Am I eligible for workers’ comp if I test positive for COVID?
If you think you may have contracted the coronavirus at work, remember:
In Illinois, the rebuttable presumption assumes essential workers who contracted the virus were exposed to it at work;
This means essential workers have a workers’ compensation claim for treatment and time off work related to the illness; and
This legislation applies to a vast majority of essential workers.
While the rebuttable presumption established by the IWCC was met with resistance in the courts, the Illinois State Legislature was able to pass HB 2455 which once again decreed that essential workers who contract the COVID-19 virus are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The new legislation extends to the vast majority of essential workers who have been working throughout the pandemic. This legislation is currently set to remain in effect until June 30, 2021.
Can employers challenge this presumption?
Yes. As stated before, employers can challenge a Coronavirus related workers’ compensation claim if they have reason to believe that you may not have contracted the virus at your place of employment. This could happen if they have evidence or reason to believe that you were exposed to COVID-19 somewhere else and/or from someone not related to your employment like a spouse or other relative in your household. It’s in these situations that it is important to consult a lawyer to help you navigate the legal process of a contested workers’ compensation claim.
Can a lawyer help if I get COVID-19 and need worker’s compensation?
Filing a workers’ compensation claim because of contracting COVID-19 may not always be straightforward. Even with the amendment currently in place, you may find yourself needing to prove you contracted the virus from your employment especially if your employer has reason to contest the claim. If you or your loved one is an essential worker who contracted the virus, make sure to call The Kryder Law Group, LLC. at 312-223-1700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for your free legal consultation. We’ll help determine if the Illinois rebuttable assumption for essential workers who contract the Coronavirus applies to you and if you have a case.