In the age of COVID-19, a workplace injury can be a matter of life and death. Those who continue to go to work each day, closely interacting with colleagues, customers, patients, and others, are at greater risk of exposure to the virus. Indeed, tens of thousands of Illinoisans, including a disproportionate number of first responders and frontline workers, have fallen ill or died because they contracted the coronavirus while on the job. Now, due to a new Illinois law passed earlier this year, these dedicated employees should have an easier time obtaining workers’ compensation benefits if they get diagnosed with COVID-19
First Responders and Frontline Workers: A “Rebuttable Presumption” That They Contracted COVID-19 On The Job
When workers get sick or suffer an injury that arose out of or occurred during their employment, they are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. This includes employees who contract coronavirus because of their work activities. However, the burden is usually on the employee to prove the connection between their injury or illness and their job. For a highly contagious and easily transmitted virus like COVID-19, it can be difficult for a worker to prove their workplace was the source of their infection, rather than a trip to the grocery store, a ride on the bus, or dinner at a restaurant.
That is the dilemma addressed by HB245, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law on June 5, 2020. The law amended both the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act and the Illinois Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act by, among other things, creating a rebuttable presumption that any first responder or frontline worker who was exposed to and contracted the coronavirus between March 9, 2020, and December 31, 2020 did so during the course of their employment.
This means that, for purposes of workers’ compensation claims, covered workers only have to present a positive COVID-19 test showing they contracted COVID-19 in order to obtain benefits. But since the presumption is rebuttable, an employer can challenge the claim and deny benefits if it can prove that:
- The employee making the claim was working from their home or alternative remote site, on leave from their employment, or combination of such arrangements for a period of 14 or more consecutive days immediately before the employee’s alleged COVID-19 related exposure or injury; or,
- The employer strictly followed all COVID-19 safety practices and guidance, as issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Illinois Department of Public Health for at least 14 days prior to the employee’s coronavirus diagnosis; or
- The identified employee was exposed to COVID-19 from an alternate source.
If the employer proves any of the foregoing circumstances, the burden then shifts back to the employee to show that their work was “a causative factor” in their contracting COVID19.
Who Does The Presumption Apply To?
Healthcare workers and/or law enforcement personnel get the benefit of the presumption. So too do workers who are employed by “essential businesses and operations” as defined in Gov. Pritzker’s March 20, 2020 Executive Order 2020-10 as long as their job requires them to encounter members of the general public or they work in a place with more than 15 employees. This includes, among other workers, individuals employed by:
- Grocery stores
- Convenience stores
- Food banks
- Media outlets
- Gas stations
- Hardware stores
- Educational institutions
- Transportation providers
- Manufacturing facilities
All Employees Can Seek Workers’ Comp Benefits For On-The-Job COVID Exposure
While first responders and frontline workers may now have an easier time obtaining workers’ compensation benefits if they get sick with coronavirus, any Illinois worker who believes that they became infected because of exposure while on the job may make a claim. To be successful, however, they need to prove that the accident arose out of, occurred in the course of, and was causally connected to their employment.
If You Believe You Contracted COVID-19 While At Work, We Can Help You Get The Benefits You Need and Deserve
If the price you pay for doing your job is acquiring COVID-19, you deserve the workers’ compensation benefits that can pay for your care and recovery and help you through a trying time.
At The Romaker Law Firm, we fight passionately for the rights of injured workers throughout Chicagoland, from Waukegan to Joliet. We help workers and their families obtain benefits to cover:
- lost wages
- medical bills
- damages for permanent injuries (either total or partial)
- vocational rehabilitation assistance; and/or
- death benefits for the families of workers killed on the job.
If you believe you contracted COVID-19 while working, call us at (312)-377-7000 or reach out online to set up your free consultation in Spanish or English.