Under Illinois law, while I’m employed and I get COVID-19, can I make a claim under Worker’s Compensation or the Occupational Disease acts for that sickness, and do I have the burden of proof of showing I contracted the disease from the job?
Yes and no.
Last week the Illinois Worker’s Compensation Commission in an emergency regulation amended its procedural rules to ease the burden of proof on employees in certain professions that bear exceptional exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus (aka a “coronavirus”), which could result in developing the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
In Illinois, persons employed who suffer an injury “arising out of and in the course of” their employment have a claim under the Worker’s Compensation Act to be compensated by the employer for all medical expenses for the treatment of such injury, in addition to lost wages from being unable to work because of the injury, plus possible permanent disability. So too under the Occupational Disease Act similar compensation can be had if an employee has a disease caused by or aggravated by the hazards or exposure in their job.
Disputes between the employer and employee are resolved under an agency called the Worker’s Compensation Commission. The Commission appoints arbitrators who hear the evidence presented by parties and makes a binding ruling. Normally the employee has the burden of proving the injury or illness arose out of and in the course of the employment or was caused by the exposure to the hazards of the job.
Because of the virus’ wide spread, it might be tough, bordering on impossible, for employees in certain professions to prove they contracted the virus in the course of or because of their employment as opposed to, say, shopping at the local market.
The Comp Commission thus issued an amendment to its rules of evidence per the rule-making authority granted it under the Comp Act. Now, if an employee falls into one of the defined categories of occupations and if they develop the COVID-19 flu, it is presumed to have been caused by the employment thereby qualifying for compensation under the respective acts. That presumption can be rebutted by the employer. The business lobby is outraged, arguing that rebuttal would be tough, bordering on impossible.
The employees with the rebuttable presumption are limited to COVID-19 first responders or frontline workers. Those are defined in a list of occupations among which are any medical personnel and health care support staff; fire, police and emergency technicians; grocery employees; people in food, beverage or cannabis sales or production; agriculture; gas station workers; financial institutions; hardware stores; mail or shipping services; take-out restaurants; transportation businesses; and a slew of other businesses that were found essential — home supply; professional services (lawyers and accountants, anyone?); day care centers allowed to operate; hotels; funeral services; home care services and residential shelters; and manufacturing and distribution services.
At the moment, this burden-shifting rule is effective only for 150 days from March 1, 2020.
Noticeably absent on the list of jobs under this rule are workers in the media (and especially legal columnists).
Now that’s an outrage.