Employers Take Note – Change to Illinois Rules of Evidence Make It Difficult to Defend Workers Compensation Claims Related to COVID-19
Earlier this week, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission adopted an emergency rule which changes the applicable burden of proof and will make it much more difficult for employers to defend against workers compensation claims filed by certain employees who contract COVID-19.
Under normal workers compensation procedures, the burden is on the employee to establish that the injury or illness was directly caused while acting within the scope of their employment. However, the emergency amendment implemented this week creates a rebuttable presumption that a “First Responder” or “Front-Line Worker” who contracts COVID-19 contracted the virus while acting within the scope of employment. Specifically, the emergency amendment provides that “the exposure will be rebuttably presumed to have arisen out of and in the course of petitioner’s COVID-19 First Responder or Front-Line Worker employment and, further, will be rebuttably presumed to be causally connected to the hazards or exposures of the petitioner’s COVID-19 First Responder or Front-Line Worker employment. Ultimately, the emergency amendment places the burden on the employer to rebut the presumption and provide evidence that the worker did not contract the virus at work.
The class of workers included under the definition of “COVID-19 First Responder or Front-Line Worker” includes not only those individuals employed as police officers, 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, but also includes all workers of “Essential Businesses and Operations” as defined in Executive Order 2020-10 which was executed and entered by Governor Pritzker on March 20, 2020.
Considering an individual who contracts COVID-19 may be asymptomatic for several days it will be very difficult for employers to present sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption and meet its burden in establishing that the employee did not contract COVID-19 while acting within the scope of employment. To best defend COVID-19 worker compensation claims, employers should commence their investigation immediately and interview the claimant to determine if the virus was contracted in connection with their employment.
For more information on how this emergency amendment to the Illinois Rules of Evidence may affect you or your business contact the attorneys at Rock Fusco & Connelly, LLC. We can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at (312) 494-1000.