On May 22, 2020, Illinois General Assembly passed an amendment to the Illinois Occupational Diseases Act that provides added protections to certain categories of employees that become ill due to the COVID-19 virus. This amendment essentially accomplishes what the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission tried to do with their Rule amendments, but were challenged and subsequently withdrawn. This was signed into law by Gov. Pritzker June 8th, 2020. See full House Bill here: HB2455.
The new law provides a rebuttable presumption that COVID-19 was contracted out of and in the course of employment for first responders and front-line workers. The law applies to employees who contracted the virus between 3/9/20 and 12/31/20 and makes it easier for employees to prefect a benefit claim for those considered to be frontline workers or essential workers, which list specific to the COVID-19 virus has been greatly expanded.
The amendment essentially creates a rebuttable presumption of occupational exposure to COVID-19 for first responders and front line workers who contract the disease during specified dates. First responders and front line workers are defined in the Act, but generally includes police, fire personnel, paramedics, healthcare workers who interact with other people and patients, including those in the teaching profession. The Amendment also generally applies to employees of essential businesses who either interact with the general public. All such employees are listed in the Amendment and Governor’s Executive Order 2020-10.
The presumption can be rebutted through producing competent evidence at trial by showing that the employee was not working or was working from home for at least fourteen days before developing COVID-19, then the presumption would not apply. Demonstration of compliance to Center for Disease Control (CDC) or the Illinois Department of Public Health may also serve to rebut the presumption.
The investigative steps that should be taken as to injured worker and the employer:
- Statement of the claimant
- Statement of witnesses
- Medical history of the claimant
- Activity/social media check of the claimant – purpose is to establish alternative explanation for potential exposure.
- Medical analysis – obtain the medical records of the claimant and all other relevant information as soon as possible and forward same to a qualified infectious disease specialist or toxicologist for review and comment as to whether the exposure was sufficient to result in the contraction of the Coronavirus.
- Secure all documentation and evidence of all efforts made toward sanitation and social distancing recommended by the CDC or the Illinois Department of Public Health.
- Secure evidence of the Claimant’s work environment, and work area.
- Determine if the Claimant was exposed to any other employees at work who has tested positive for COVID-19.
- If possible, obtain information on customer(s) to whom the claimant may have been exposed to determine whether there was actual exposure to an individual infected with COVID-19.
The situation continues to be ever changing. As more significant events take place, IPMG will further update.