COVID-19 Workers Compensation Coverage for Essential Employees

An emergency rule has been added to Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act [820 ILCS 305] and to the Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act [820 ILCS 310] on April 13, 2020.  This emergency rule allows essential employees who become sick with COVID-19 to receive Workers’ Compensation benefits for their illness. The emergency rule is in place for a 150-day period beginning April 16, 2020.

Workers’ compensation policies usually require that a worker prove their illness or injury resulted from work.  Under this new rule, employees who are First Responders or Front-Line Workers who contract COVID-19 and say they were exposed at work will be understood as honest statements.  Instead, the responsibility has been shifted to the employers to prove that their employee did not contract the virus at work, which will be difficult to do in most cases.

This means that our First Responders and Front-Line Workers will be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if they become ill from COVID-19. Those who qualify for workers’ compensation could receive benefits including medical expenses, disability benefits, two-thirds of their salary, and other options.

This rule covers a wide range of employees, including traditional first responders, such as police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians.  The list of covered employees also includes crucial employees of essential businesses and operations as defined by the Stay at Home Order issued on March 20, 2020.  At this time, the list of essential employees does not include members of the media, but the list may still be expanded at a later date.

Several industries have spoken against the emergency rule, which may be challenged in court.  Until the action has been overturned, employers in Illinois need to be aware of their potential liability for workers’ compensation claims amid the COVID-19 outbreak.  Since it is now the employers’ responsibility to prove that their employee did not contract COVID-19 in the workplace, employers should ensure the documentation of any employee reports of COVID-19 related illnesses and/or injuries on the Illinois Form 45.

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