Suit says commission overreached its authority
By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD — Business groups are challenging a decision by a commission that makes workers’ compensation benefits available to essential workers who contract COVID-19 without having to prove the illness was contracted at the workplace.
The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association filed a lawsuit Wednesday, April 22, in Sangamon County Circuit Court and are represented by the law firm Greensfelder, Hemker and Gale. That suit challenged a recent decision by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, which ruled any COVID-19 first responder or front-line worker who contracts COVID-19 during the remainder of the governor’s disaster declaration will be “rebuttably” presumed to have done so in work-related activity for the purposes of workers’ compensation claims.
“Further, the emergency rule does not guarantee or assure an award of benefits to any individual who suspects he or she has contracted COVID-19 or self-isolates and self-quarantines due to an alleged or suspected exposure to COVID-19, but, instead, creates a reasonable rebuttable presumption that a first responder or front-line worker’s exposure to the virus is connected to their employment,” according the commission’s ruling.
Gov. JB Pritzker announced the decision, which applies to all employees deemed essential in his stay-at-home order, on April 13. “We owe (essential workers) a debt that we can never fully repay. But to start, we can give them the peace of mind to know that they will be covered if they fall ill on the job,” he said at the time.
Illinoisans injured on the job normally must prove their illness or injury was directly caused by their duties. The business groups said the commission’s COVID-19 decision was an overreach. “To be clear, this case is not about the wisdom of the substantive new law expressed by the commission. This case is about the commission far exceeding its rulemaking authority,” attorney Scott Cruz said in a statement. “The substantive law of Illinois, and the wisdom of implementing it, is for the Legislature, after proper discourse, and not the whim of the commission.”
The commission conducts hearings, issues decisions, and approves settlements of cases under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission Act and Occupational Diseases Act. It is comprised of 10 appointees chosen by the governor, including three employers operating under the Workers’ Compensation Act, three employees covered by the act and four other members not affiliated with business or labor.
“Essential businesses across Illinois are doing all they can to protect workers while also meeting unprecedented demand for food, medical supplies, protective equipment, and other important services needed during this pandemic,” Cruz said. “At a time when many are waiting for relief from the federal and state government in an effort to make payroll and retain workers, they will now be forced to pay for additional medical and salary costs regardless of whether an employees’ illness was contracted outside of the workplace.”
Pritzker declined to comment on the pending case during his daily briefing Wednesday.