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Workers’ Comp. Adds Law for Front Line Workers in Wake of COVID-19

The Illinois General Assembly has passed a bipartisan bill aimed at helping workers who become infected with COVID-19 in late May. The bill was sent to Governor Pritzker on May 29 and is expected to be signed into a law.

The new law will create a new paragraph in the Workers’ Compensation Act under 1(g). This will extend to certain workers who contract COVID-19 between the limited period of March 9, 2020 through December 31, 2020.

In order for an employee to prove their diagnosis occurred on or before June 15, 2020, the employee must provide a confirmed medical diagnosis by a licensed medical practitioner or a positive laboratory test. For diagnosis occurring on or after June 16, 2020, the employee must provide a laboratory test proving COVID-19. A medical diagnosis by a licensed medical practitioner by itself is not enough.

The statute creates a rebuttable presumption in favor of first responders and front line workers including but not limited to:

  • Police, fire, and EMTs;
  • Individuals employed and considered first responders;
  • Workers for healthcare providers including nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and homecare workers;
  • Corrections officers;
  • Individuals employed by essential businesses and operations defined in the Executive Order dated March 20, 2020 as long as individuals employed by essential businesses and operations are required by their employment to encounter members of the general public or to work in employment locations of more than 15 employees. Employees’ homes do not count as a place of employment except for homecare workers. Front Line workers are defined by:
    • Stores selling groceries and medicine;
    • Food, beverage, cannabis production, and agriculture;
    • Organizations that provide charitable and social services;
    • Media;
    • Gas stations and businesses needed for transportation;
    • Financial institutions – banks, currency exchanges, and consumer lending;
    • Hardware stores;
    • Critical trades:
      • Building and construction;
      • Janitorial staff;
      • Security staff;
    • Mail, post, shipping, delivery, and pickup services;
    • Educational institutions;
    • Laundry services;
    • Restaurants for consumption off premises;
    • Businesses that sell, manufacture, or supply products to work from home;
    • Businesses that sell, manufacture, or supply other essential business or operations;
    • Transportation companies;
    • Home-based care and services;
    • Professional services:
      • Law, accounting, and insurance firms;
    • Daycare centers;
    • Critical labor union functions;
    • Hotels and motels; and
    • Funeral services

If a front line employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, a rebuttable presumption will arise out of and in the course of the employees’ employment, and the injury will be rebuttably presumed as causally connected to the hazards or exposures of the employees’ employment.

How Employers Can Rebut the Presumption

There are three ways to rebut the presumption:

  1. Show that the employee was working from home for 14 or more consecutive days immediately prior to the injury, occupation disease, or period of incapacity from COVID-19;
  2. The employee was exposed to COVID-19 by an alternate source;
  3. The employer was engaging in and applying, to the best of its ability, industry-specific workplace sanitation, social distancing, and health and safety practices based on CDC Guidelines. The employer can rebut the presumption by showing that the employee had been protected consistent with the directives of the CDC for at least 14 days prior to the injury. This would include the requirement of personal protective equipment including, but not limited to, face coverings, gloves, safety glasses, safety face shields, barriers, shoes, etc.

Conclusion

Overall, while Illinois continues to see a drop in numbers of new COVID-19 cases, employers are encouraged to continue following their industry standard sanitation guidelines, the CDC guidelines, and social distancing measures, and encourage their employees to do the same. This alone will help you overcome the rebuttable presumption now created in Section 1(g) of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.

If you have any questions about the Workers’ Compensation Act, CDC Guidelines or how to better protect your business from fraudulent workers’ compensation claims, contact the attorneys at Winick & Gallaher, P.C.