The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission has withdrawn an emergency rule it passed just weeks ago that would have made it easier for essential workers to claim they became sick with COVID-19 while on the job.
The withdrawal comes in the face of a Sangamon County Circuit Court decision granting an emergency request by the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association to block the new rule. The court found that in passing the emergency rule, which created a rebuttable presumption that essential workers who become sick with COVID-19 contracted it in the course of their employment, the Commission exceeded its rulemaking authority under the Illinois Administrative Procedure Act and the Illinois Workers Compensation Act. Under these laws, the Commission only has the authority to create procedural rules. The court determined the Commission had improperly created “new substantive rights for employees and new liabilities for employers,” which is the province of the Illinois Legislature, not the Commission.
The court issued its temporary restraining order on April 24, 2020, and the Commission withdrew the rule in an emergency board meeting on April 27, 2020, citing litigation costs as the reason for the withdrawal.
While employees who contract COVID-19 may still pursue workers’ compensation claims, they will not have the benefit of the lower burden of proof that the emergency rule would have provided. Instead, they will face the same burden they would for any other workers’ compensation claim – to demonstrate they were exposed to an occupational disease that arose out of and in the course of employment, and that the disease was caused or aggravated by the exposure. Employers should reach out to their Reed Smith attorneys, who can provide guidance and assistance in developing workplace safety plans and procedures, and also help defend against COVID-19-related claims.