Update: Essential Workers and COVID-19 Exposure: Answers to Your Legal Questions
We’ve written a follow up to this post which includes answers to the legal questions we hear the most from Illinois workers who want to understand their legal rights when it comes to exposure to the Coronavirus. We’ve included answers about essential workers’ rights and workplace exposure to COVID-19 including:
- What legal rights do I have if I contract COVID-19?
- What is a rebuttable presumption?
- How can an employer rebut or argue the COVID-19 workers’ compensation claim?
- Who is an essential employee?
- What if I am not an essential employee and I contract COVID-19 at work?
- What if my employer asks an employee to sign a waiver?
- How can I find out if I have a case against my employer for COVID-19 exposure?
For a free legal consultation, call (312) 223-1700
COVID-19 and Essential Workers: Know Your Rights
Essential Employees in Illinois Including A Wal-Mart Employee Exposed to COVID-19 Have Legal Rights Against Employers
Are you an essential employee required to work during the COVID-19 pandemic? While many of us follow the current stay-at-home order issued by Governor Pritzker, there are countless workers in healthcare and other essential services on the frontline who are showing up for work. Firefighters, Chicago Police Department officers, doctors, nurses, Wal-Mart employees, Walgreens pharmacists, and Jewel store employees, just to name a few, are bravely reporting to work and risking exposure to COVID-19. Rest assured these essential employees do have legal rights and protections in the event you are exposed to the coronavirus while working.
Essential Workers’ Rights
- Essential employees have legal rights in the event of COVID-19 exposure while working
- Employers should ensure a safe workplace by following federal and state guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health, OSHA, and the CDC
- An employer that knows an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 and then allows that employee to transmit the illness to another employee may be liable for civil damages
- If you have symptoms, get tested, it’s free and priority is given to first responders, healthcare workers, and people at risk including 65 years or older
- If you think your employer’s negligence resulted in your testing positive for Coronavirus, call us for a free consultation to discuss your legal rights at (312) 223-1700
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What safety precautions are businesses required to take to keep me safe from COVID-19?
With the best safety practices quickly evolving, it is critical to understand what safety measures your employer should take to ensure a safe workplace and business. Federal and state guidelines have been issued from the Illinois Department of Public Health; Occupational Safety and Health Organization (“OSHA”); and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”). For example, employers should clean and disinfect high touch surfaces such as keyboards, hand rails, phones, and work tools. Employers should also ensure social distancing; provide proper personal protective equipment (PPE); and prevent sick employees from infecting others.
What legal rights do I have if I contract coronavirus?
If you contract COVID-19 while working you have legal rights. First, employees may be entitled to pursue a civil action against their employer if the employer intentionally inflicts the injury. The Illinois Supreme Court has defined this intent as a desire to cause the injury or as substantial belief the injury will occur. For example, an employer that knows an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 and then allows that employee to transmit the illness to another employee may be liable for civil damages.
Recently, the family of a Chicago-area Walmart employee filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Wal-Mart. The employee allegedly contracted COVID-19 at work from other employees. The employee performed overnight stocking and maintenance duties at the Wal-Mart located in Evergreen Park, Illinois. The lawsuit alleges Wal-Mart failed to take reasonable precautions to protect employees from contracting COVID-19. Further, the lawsuit states Wal-Mart was aware employees had tested positive and failed to warn other employees. The case will certainly examine whether Wal-Mart’s actions manifested a substantial belief the employee would be exposed to the virus.
Second, essential employees who contract COVID-19 while working are entitled to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Generally, an employee who is injured on the job can file a workers’ compensation claim against their employer to recover lost wages, medical bills and lump sum settlement. Initially, a difficulty for essential employees encountered was proving the virus was contracted in the scope of work.
However, in a recent emergency ruling, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission declared worker’s compensation benefits will be offered to essential workers that contract COVID-19. Further, the ruling eased the burden of proving the contraction occurred while working. Specifically, the ruling provided a presumption that employees contracted COVID-19 while working. In short, it is automatically assumed the employee was exposed to the virus at work. Employees that test positive for the virus will typically be required to quarantine for 14 days. This is important because under section 820 ILCS 305/8(b) of the Workers’ Compensation Act, an employee that misses 14 consecutive days due to an illness is entitled to temporary total disability benefits. The benefits would commence the first day of the quarantine. Typical total disability benefits which compensate lost wages do not cover the first 3 days of missed time unless an employee misses 14 days of work.
How can I be tested for the coronavirus?
A new drive through testing center has opened in the South Suburbs of Chicago at 3824 W. 159th St. in Markham. The test is free and priority is given to first responders, healthcare workers, people at risk including 65 years or older, and people who 18 years or older exhibiting symptoms. A complete list of testing centers can be found at the following website: https://www.dph.illinois.gov/covid19/covid-19-testing-sites.