On April 13, 2020, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission held a telephone meeting and passed a new rule that would impact a large number of Illinois local governments that have essential employees who might allege injuries as a result of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
The new rule provides for a rebuttable presumption that any exposure to the COVID-19 virus will be presumed to have “arisen out of and in the course of petitioner’s COVID-19 First Responder or Front-Line Worker employment.” It also provides a rebuttable presumption that the exposure was “causally connected to the hazards or exposures of the petitioner’s COVID-19 First Responder or Front Line Worker employment.” The new rule is effective for a maximum or 150 days.
What this means for local government employers is that many of their essential employees (including First Responders and “Front Line Workers”), as well as front line workers in private businesses, may have an easier time collecting workers’ compensation benefits if they are infected by the COVID-19 virus.
The emergency rule applies to two categories of employees: (1) First Responders and (2) Front Line Workers.
(1) “First Responders” are defined as police and fire personnel, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, corrections personnel, and health care providers.
(2) “Front Line Workers” are defined to include those employees who work in certain of the businesses defined as “essential businesses” exempted by the Governor’s stay at home order (not an exclusive list):
  • Stores that sell groceries and medicine
  • Food, beverage, and cannibals production and agriculture
  • Organizations that provide charitable and social services
  • Gas stations
  • Financial institutions
  • Hardware and supplies stores
  • Critical trades
  • Mail, post, shipping, logistics, delivery, and pick-up services
  • Educational institutions
  • Laundry services
  • Restaurants for consumption of off-premises
  • Supplies for Essential Businesses and Operations
  • Transportation
  • Home-based care and services
  • Residential facilities and shelters
  • Professional services
  • Day care centers for essential employees
  • Critical labor union functions
  • Manufacture, distribution, and supply chain for critical products and industries
  • Hotels and motels
  • Funeral services
For local government employers, this means that if one of these covered employees develops the COVID-19 virus, it will be rebuttably presumed to be work-related which could impose additional obligations on the employer to pay the employee’s medical care, provide time away from work, and possibly pay a disability settlement or death benefits to the employee’s family. An employer will have the opportunity to present evidence to rebut the presumption that the virus was work-related, but it may be difficult to establish the origins of the virus in some cases.
As you would expect, there were some immediate objections to the new rule since it was adopted. Some have raised concerns about the Commission’s authority to substantively amend state law without legislative action. Although Section 13 of the Workers’ Compensation Act authorizes the Commission to administer the Act, and Section 16 authorizes the Commission to  make and publish procedural rules for carrying out the duties imposed on it by the Act, there does not appear to be any express statutory authority for the Commission to make a substantive change to the Act. Others have raised concerns about the process by which the Commission considered the rule and whether that process complied with the Open Meetings Act.
We will continue to monitor the Commission’s decisions on COVID-19 injuries and will report any legal challenges that may be made to this emergency rule.
Post Authored by Britt Isaly, Doug Sullivan, and Greg Rode, Ancel Glink