Illinois just made it easier for some categories of employees who contract COVID-19 to be covered by the state workers’ compensation system. In an emergency amendment to the Rules of Evidence applicable to matters before the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, many employers will now face a change in the burden of proof for employees that will make it more difficult for employers to defend such claims. Employers everywhere should take note, as other states may soon follow suit.
Change to the Burden of Proof
Under normal workers’ compensation procedures, the burden is on the employee to establish that their injury or illness was directly caused by their duties. However, the Illinois emergency amendment creates a rebuttable presumption that a “First Responder” or “Front-Line Worker” who contracts COVID-19 contracted the virus at work and is therefore covered by the workers’ compensation system. The burden is then placed on the employer to rebut the presumption and provide evidence that the worker did not contract the virus at work – which is a very difficult burden given that the virus is now widespread in Illinois.
To Which Employees Does the Amendment Apply?
The emergency amendment applies to individuals employed as “police, fire personnel, emergency medical technicians, or paramedics and all individuals employed and considered as first responders, health care providers engaged in patient care, correction officers….” Further, the amendment applies to “crucial personnel” who work in the following areas:
- Stores that sell groceries and medicine;
- Food, beverage, and cannabis production and agriculture;
- Organizations that provide charitable and social services;
- Gas stations and businesses needed for transportation;
- Financial institutions;
- Hardware and supplies stores;
- Critical trades;
- Mail, post, shipping, logistics, delivery, and pick-up services;
- Educational institutions;
- Laundry services;
- Restaurants for consumption off-premises;
- Supplies to work from home;
- Supplies for Essential Businesses and Operations;
- Home-based care and services;
- Residential facilities and shelters;
- Professional services;
- Day care centers for employees exempted by executive order;
- Manufacture, distribution, and supply chain for critical products and industries;
- Critical labor union functions;
- Hotels and motels; and
- Funeral services.