COVID-19 Response: Illinois Business Coalition Files Suit Against State's WC Commission Over Emergency Amendment
Chicago, Ill. (April 23, 2020) - On April 22, 2020, a coalition of Illinois businesses, including the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, filed suit in Sangamon County alleging that the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (IWCC) exceeded its rule-making authority when it passed an Emergency Amendment stating that workers in essential categories who become ill with COVID-19 are presumed to have contracted the virus in the workplace, thus making them eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
The coalition seeks a temporary restraining order against the application of the Emergency Amendment, arguing that it is unfair to employers. This litigation was expected given the widespread consensus among management that the Amendment is draconian and imposes an undue burden on business operations. The case, Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, et al. v. Illinois Workers Compensation, et al. Case No. 2020-CH-000098, has been assigned to the Honorable Jack Davis, and an expedited hearing on injunctive relief will be set.
The IWCC published the Emergency Amendment to its Rules of Evidence on April 16, 2020, asserting that the amendment was necessitated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Amendment creates a rebuttable presumption that, when an employee seeks workers' compensation coverage for an injury or condition related to COVID-19 exposure, said injury or condition is causally related to the dangers of the worker's employment. The burden then shifts to the employer to provide evidence that the employee did not contract the virus at work.
The Amendment applies to "first responders and essential front-line workers" considered particularly susceptible to COVID-19 exposure. However, Governor J.B. Pritzker's Executive Order 2020-10 deems a wide swath of businesses "essential businesses," including delivery services, grocery stores, restaurants, and logistics, among others, meaning employees in those businesses may well be considered "essential front-line workers" as used in the Emergency Amendment. Under the Amendment, essential workers who are exposed to COVID-19 and become ill or infirm during the state of emergency will likely be able to recover workers' compensation benefits.
Until there is a ruling in this litigation, it is critical for employers to carefully track employee complaints and communications to create a verifiable record sufficient to rebut the Emergency Amendment's presumption that the employee contracted the virus at work. We will continue to monitor this case and provide updates as the situation develops. Visit Lewis Brisbois' COVID-19 Response Resource Center for more news and alerts on a variety of legal areas impacted by the pandemic.
UPDATE: On April 23, 2020, the court handling this matter has granted the business coalition’s requested temporary restraining order, putting the Emergency Amendment in legal limbo for the time being.