Illinois Relaxes Evidentiary Burden for Obtaining Workers’ Compensation Benefits During COVID-19 Pandemic
On June 5, 2020, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed HB 2455 into law, which makes it easier for certain categories of "front line workers" who contract COVID-19 to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. The new law creates a rebuttable presumption that front line workers who contract COVID-19 did so in connection with their employment.
The new law accomplishes through legislation what the state had previously tried — and failed — to accomplish through regulation. Recognizing that it is usually impossible to determine whether any particular employee who contracts COVID-19 did so at work or somewhere else, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission initially promulgated an emergency rule in April 2020 to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergency rule lowered the evidentiary burden that first responders, health care providers, and other front line workers would face in proving their entitlement to workers’ compensation by providing that such workers would be presumed to have contracted the virus as a result of their employment. However, the emergency rule was quickly challenged in court, and the Workers’ Compensation Commission withdrew it on April 27, 2020.
Like the emergency rule, HB 2455 also establishes a presumption that certain categories of workers who contract COVID-19 did so at work. The presumption applies not only to traditional first responders such as police and firefighters, but also to “front line workers” who work in one of the “essential businesses” listed in Governor Pritzker’s Stay at Home Order. However, for the presumption to apply, the employee must “encounter members of the general public” or “work in employment locations of more than 15 employees.” Thus, the presumption does not apply to employees who do not interact with the general public, or who work at home or in locations with 15 or fewer employees.
The presumption created by HB 2455 applies to all cases tried after the act's effective date, where there has been a diagnosis of COVID-19 made between March 9, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020. Before June 15, the employee can obtain the benefit of the presumption by showing a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis; after June 15, a positive test for COVID-19 or for COVID-19 antibodies is required.
Finally, employers may submit evidence to rebut the presumption. For example, the employer may submit evidence showing that the employee worked from home for at least 14 days before the onset of the alleged occupational injury, that the employer’s safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 conformed with current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Illinois Department of Public Health, or that the employee contracted COVID‑19 from another source.
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