How the COVID-19 Crisis Could Impact Your Workers’ Comp Claim

Posted on June 17, 2020

Employees who get sick with COVID-19 due to workplace exposure may obtain workers’ compensation benefits in Illinois. Causing symptoms ranging from mild to severe illness or death, the coronavirus is an illness that may spread as a result of person-to-person contact. While much of the state and country have shut down to help slow the spread of the virus, people in essential jobs must continue to work, putting themselves and their families at risk of potentially contracting COVID-19.

Is the Coronavirus Covered by Workers’ Compensation?

Under certain circumstances, a COVID-19 diagnosis may qualify as an occupational disease, and thus, allow sick employees to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. Workers in Illinois may recover benefits for occupational diseases occurring in the course of and arising due to their employment. However, the state’s program does not cover those conditions or aggravations of conditions common to the general public.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission sought to extend the ability to seek benefits to essential workers in the state who get sick with the coronavirus through a temporary change to the workers’ compensation law. However, a judge halted enforcement of the updated rules following legal action by business groups worried about the potential costs for employers now and down the line. In response, the state withdrew the amendment. Employees who believe they contracted COVID-19 while working may file claims for benefits, though, they must show their workplace caused their illness to be awarded workers’ compensation.

What Benefits Are Available to Sick Workers?

Employees who contract coronavirus on the job may receive the same benefits awarded through the workers’ compensation program to other workers who suffer occupational injuries. In addition to coverage of their associated medical expenses, employees may receive coverage for necessary therapies or rehabilitation. Employees sick with COVID-19 may also receive partial wage replacement while off work recovering from their illnesses. The families of those who die as a result of occupational coronavirus may receive benefits to aid with funerary expenses and a percentage of the deceased workers’ weekly wages.

How Do Workers Prove They Contracted COVID-19 On the Job?

Claimants may include supporting documentation when seeking workers’ compensation benefits to prove their illnesses occurred as a result of them performing their job duties. They may submit documentation of their diagnoses, including doctor office notes and laboratory results, as well as a detailed medical history. Employees seeking workers’ compensation for a COVID-19 diagnosis may also provide a detailed explanation of their job duties, showing the extent to which their jobs required them to interact with the general public. Providing information regarding any other employees diagnosed with the virus may also help establish the environmental risk in the workplace and aid the IWCC in making an eligibility determination.

What Responsibilities Do Employers Have to Keep Workers Safe?

Although standards specific to the COVID-19 pandemic for worker safety do not exist, the existing rules requiring employers to maintain workplaces free of recognized hazards may apply. So too may federal regulations necessitating employers to make medical evaluations and follow-up available to workers who have had exposure incidents on the job.

To protect workers from coronavirus, employers may take steps including educating workers about the risks, the government guidelines for avoiding exposure, and the appropriate sources of information regarding the virus. Additionally, employers may implement measures to help cut down on the risk of workplace transmission. Among other steps, this may include the following:

  • Providing workers with masks, hand sanitizers, or easy access to handwashing stations
  • Regularly disinfecting public surfaces including doorknobs, elevator buttons, and counters
  • Adjusting shifts, making layout changes, or allowing people to work from home to help protect workers from infection
  • Instructing staff to inform management about infection symptoms or potential exposure incidents
  • Encouraging workers who have symptoms or have had exposures to stay home

Can Employees Take Civil Action for Occupational Coronavirus Exposure?

Provided they do not receive workers’ compensation benefits for their illnesses, employees who contract COVID-19 at work may pursue legal avenues against their employers. Should their employers fail to provide appropriate guidance or take the necessary measures to ensure the safety of their workers, employees who get sick with coronavirus due to workplace exposure may choose to file negligence lawsuits against their employers. As a result of such actions, they may receive compensation for pain and suffering, lost wages, and other damages.

Employees may also file discrimination or retaliation lawsuits against their employers for inappropriate treatment relating to coronavirus-involved issues. For example, employees not allowed to return to work because their ages put them in a high-risk category for COVID-19 may take legal action for alleged age discrimination. Similarly, employees with germaphobia, anxiety, or other health conditions who get demoted or terminated for not returning to work may also pursue a lawsuit against their employers.