These days, more and more of us here in Illinois are going back to work, but the COVID-19 pandemic, for the time being, isn’t going anywhere. In a time when new questions and answers seem to arise every day, one of the questions that now needs answering is how workers’ compensation benefits will work for employees who contract COVID-19 while on the job.
The answer, of course, is that it will work differently for different employees, depending on the nature of their work and what precautions their employer was (or wasn’t) taking. For specifics, we must look to the Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act (820 ILCS 310), which was created to protect the rights of employees who contract serious illnesses in the course of their employment.
Here is a synopsis of what we currently know about workers’ compensation in Illinois in relation to COVID-19.
The Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act includes a specific section pertaining to front-line workers, whom it defines as, “all individuals employed as police, fire personnel, emergency medical technicians, or paramedics; all individuals employed and considered as first responders; all workers for health care providers, including nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities and home care workers; corrections officers; and any individuals employed by essential businesses and operations as defined in Executive Order 2020-10 dated March 20, 2020”.
The Act further explains that for front-line workers who catch the coronavirus, “the exposure and contraction shall be rebuttably presumed to have arisen out of and in the course of the employee’s first responder or front-line worker employment.” This means that if you are a front-line worker seeking workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19, the burden is on your employer to prove that you are not entitled to benefits, rather than on you to prove that you are. This is different from the majority of workers’ compensation claims, in that the burden of proof is usually on the petitioner (the injured or sick employee).
However, this does not mean that all front-line workers who contract the virus will receive workers’ comp benefits automatically. You should expect your employers’ insurance company to demand, at the very least, a positive lab test for COVID-19 or COVID-19 antibodies and related medical records. They may also be able to deny liability if they were engaging in all necessary industry-specific safety precautions to their fullest ability.
If you are not a front-line worker but believe you contracted COVID-19 in the course of your employment, you absolutely still have the right to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Getting those benefits, however, will be a more difficult road. The difference is that in this case, the burden is on you to prove that you are entitled to benefits, rather than on your employer to prove that you are not (this is where a good attorney comes in handy).
The biggest difficulty here will probably be in proving that you caught the coronavirus in the course of your employment and not elsewhere. However, with virus-tracking technology advancing each day, this may not be insurmountable. Furthermore, if you came in direct contact with someone at work who contracted COVID-19 before you did, or if your employer was not taking the proper safety precautions in the workplace, these facts may help you prove your case.
What to Expect When Filing for Workers’ Compensation Benefits for COVID-19
Most workers’ compensation cases take a substantial amount of time to resolve. It is not uncommon for them to take years. This is also where a good attorney comes in handy, as you will be expected to file pleadings and make appearances at the Workers’ Compensation Commission, something an experienced lawyer can easily take care of for you.
While your claim is open, you should expect to see all the relevant healthcare providers, as well as independent medical examiners selected by your employer’s insurance company. Because COVID-19 necessitates the patient fully quarantining for at least two weeks, you will likely receive Temporary Total Disability benefits to replace the wages you would have made during that time.
Once you have recovered, you may or may not continue to receive benefits, depending on the long-term effects of your illness. Sadly, COVID-19 leaves many people with lasting health complications. If this is the case, you may receive Permanent Partial Disability benefits as well.
You can read more about the benefit rates in Illinois and how they work here.
What to Do in the Meantime
As with all things related to the current global situation, the most important thing is to guard your own health and the health of the people around you. Follow the CDC Health and Safety Guidelines, as well as those set by your employer and local government. It is our sincere hope that you will never need to claim workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19.
As you follow health and safety guidelines to the best of your ability, make sure that your employer is doing the same. If they fail or refuse to do so, try to document this with photos or written correspondence.
If you are in the unfortunate position of already having caught COVID-19, be absolutely sure to follow self-quarantine guidelines and communicate clearly with your employer about why you are not coming in to work during this time. Keep track of your medical treatment and retain proof of a positive lab test as well. You are on the right track by reading up on your rights as an employee in the state of Illinois.
If you became sick or injured because of work, reach out to us at (312) 258-8188 or via our website for a free consultation.