House Bill 2455 (“HB 2455”), a “labor omnibus bill” partially aimed at reforming the Illinois unemployment insurance program and expanding its protections, now includes a provision creating a rebuttable presumption that a worker who contracts COVID-19 did so during work. The language in HB 2455 creating this rebuttable presumption largely mirrors the emergency evidentiary rule filed last month by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and later blocked by a Sangamon County Judge. The Bill also grants line-of-duty death benefits to the families of Chicago police officers and firefighters who die from the coronavirus, but only applies if the virus was contracted between March 9 and December 31, 2020. HB2455, which was approved by the Illinois General Assembly on May 22, 2020, will now be sent to Governor Pritzker for signature.
The new provision creating the presumption applies to first responders and frontline workers such as police and fire personnel, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, health-care providers and correctional officers. In addition, it applies to all essential workers as identified under Governor Pritzker’s March 20 executive order so long as those workers were required to interact with the public or work with more than 15 employees at their place of work. For the presumption to apply in court, an employee must demonstrate that he/she received a positive COVID-19 diagnostic test or a test showing the presence of COVID-19 antibodies. An employee would not receive the presumption if he or she was working from home for 14 days prior to testing positive for the virus.
HB 2455 does provide means by which an employer can rebut a worker’s claim. In order to do this, employers would need to demonstrate that their workplace was adhering to current public health guidelines for two weeks prior to the employee’s illness, or that the employee was working from home for a period of at least 14 days prior to the injury claim. An employer could also try to prove that the employee was exposed to the virus by an alternative source outside the workplace.
Although the presumption will expire on December 31, 2020, employers should always be mindful of the potential for workplace transference and be sure to remain in step with up-to-date public health guidelines pertaining to workplace safety.
If you have questions about how HB 2455 might affect your organization, please contact Johnson & Bell Shareholders, Christopher J. Carlos, Joseph F. Spitzzeri, Genevieve M. LeFevour, Brian C Langs or the Johnson & Bell attorney with whom you regularly work.