The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission passed the emergency rule last week after it was requested by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. The amendment requires the employers of first responders and other essential employees to pay workers’ compensation benefits to workers who test positive for COVID-19, assuming the worker contracted the virus on the job.
“It will be rebuttably presumed that the individual’s exposure arises out of and in the course of and rebuttably presumed to be causally connected to their employment,” the emergency rule states.
The rule covers first responders, healthcare providers, and correction officers. It will also apply to essential workers in grocery stores, hardware stores, gas stations, banks, and others, but not media.
On Wednesday, a coalition of business groups including the Illinois Manufacturers Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association filed the lawsuit in Sangamon County Circuit Court challenging the emergency amendment, saying the commission has exceeded its authority.
“This case is about the Commission far exceeding its rulemaking authority,” the group said in a statement. “The substantive law of Illinois, and the wisdom of implementing it, is for the legislature, after proper discourse, and not the whim of the Commission.”
State law requires an agency to give 45 days’ notice of rule changes to the public. The commission bypassed the red tape by saying the pandemic brings “extreme” urgency and going through the normal channels would cause “irreparable and irreversible harm to the public interest, public safety, and public welfare.”
The suit claims businesses are already stretched thin trying to make ends meet as they wait for aid from the state and federal government to make payroll and retain their employees. They will now be forced to pay for additional medical and wage costs regardless of whether a worker’s illness was contracted in the workplace.
Illinois isn’t the only state to pass emergency amendments to workers’ compensation rules. Legislatures nationwide are enacting statutes declaring employers must pay workers’ compensation benefits to essential and front-line employees who contract the virus at work.
Florida, for example, recently passed a directive ordering the Division of Risk Management to fulfill claims made by state employees who contract COVID-19 due to work-related exposure.
“If we’re going to ask our public servants to fight this pandemic on our behalf, they have to know we’ve got their backs if they get sick,” Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said in a statement.
The public servants named in the directive include law enforcement officers, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, correctional officers, members of the national guard, child safety investigators, and healthcare workers who directly interact with those infected with COVID-19.
Unlike Illinois, Florida’s essential workers in the private sector—grocery store workers, delivery drivers, warehouse workers—are not covered by the directive. Whether that will change in the coming months remains to be seen.
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