New Amendments for Illinois Workers’ Compensation Adopted in Response to COVID-19
On April 13, 2020, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission overwhelmingly adopted an emergency rule expanding the scope of the Illinois Occupational Disease and Workers’ Compensation Acts to include claims resulting from COVID-19. The rules go into effect beginning April 16, 2020, for a period of 150 days. This rule expands the definition of first responders and front line workers who are exposed to COVID-19 to include all workers of essential businesses as defined by Governor Pritzker’s Executive Order 2020-10, Section 1 Parts 7,8,9,10,11 and 12.
Prior to this emergency rule, it wasn’t certain that a front-line workers’ risk for contracting COVID-19 would have met the occupational disease standard for a claim. Now, the Illinois Industrial Commission appears to have removed this uncertainty, at least initially, and provides for a rebuttable presumption that COVID-19 diagnosis is related to their work as first responders and front-line workers’ (as defined by Executive order 2020-10).
The plain language of the Illinois Occupational Disease Act, provides a definition of “Occupational Disease” as:
...a disease arising out of and in the course of the employment or which has become aggravated and rendered disabling as a result of the exposure of employment. Such aggravation shall arise out of a risk peculiar to or increased by the employment and not common to the general public.
It is important to note that the amendment is written on an exposure basis, not a diagnosis basis. The order outlines the need for first responders and front-line workers to continue to receive a paycheck should they miss work due to self-isolation or self-quarantine, opening the benefits for Temporary Total Disability payments related to an exposure. It remains to be seen what would be considered acceptable as a defense or rebuttal facts. Clarification will likely come from commission, appellate court, or even a supreme court ruling.
How will Workers Compensation policies respond?
Workers’ Compensation Policies are statutory which means the benefits available and limits for injuries and illnesses are written to respond to those statutory requirements. Policies are specific to the industry (NAICS code) and the jobs performed (NCCI Codes). This specificity requires the carriers to approve, through underwriting, the NAICS and NCCI class codes prior to coverage being granted. For companies evolving in these uncharted times, this could mean a change in class code. It is recommended that companies who are changing direction to align with the needs of society, connect with their broker to see if this change will have an impact on their coverage.
Will this be considered one claim, or will each exposure be considered a separate claim?
Claim definitions will be policy specific to accident and occupational disease separately. While it is common for Occupational Disease to be written on a per employee basis, specific reference to the policy will be needed to confirm. Policy coverage and response were not referenced or addressed in any part of this emergency ruling; therefore, additional clarification may be required to address the definition of an occurrence or event as well, in situations where this is not defined in the policy.
Copies of these emergency amendments can be found on the IWCC website https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/iwcc/Pages/default.aspx
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