Illinois repeals controversial workers’ compensation rule that presumed front-line workers with COVID-19 got it on the job

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission on Monday repealed a controversial emergency rule stating that if front-line workers are infected with COVID-19, it would be presumed to be a result of their work duties.

A Sangamon County judge last week issued a temporary restraining order blocking the new rule, which would have granted benefits to workers deemed essential who contracted the new coronavirus. The judge’s order resulted from a lawsuit filed by the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association that had the support of more than two dozen business groups.

The commission passed the rule earlier this month expanding workers’ compensation insurance for first responders, health care workers, grocery store employees and some other workers considered “essential” under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s statewide stay-at-home order if they contract COVID-19.

Pritzker had asked the commission to pass the emergency rule, and said earlier this month the measure was “what we need to do right now to protect people.”

When the emergency rule was passed, business groups called it a drastic policy change that would require employers to take on added medical expenses and salary benefits if an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, without proof that it was contracted in the workplace.

“It was clearly an overreach and inconsistent with the traditional rule-making process,” Illinois Manufacturers’ Association president and CEO Mark Denzler and Illinois Retail Merchants Association president and CEO Rob Karr said in a joint statement Monday. “If left unchecked, this rule would have subject Illinois businesses to billions of dollars in added costs at a time when many are struggling to make payroll and retain employees.”

Alice Johnson, executive director of the Illinois Nurses Association, praised the rule at a news briefing when it was passed, noting that some nurses have seen employers question where they became infected, “ignoring the obvious risks created by the work they do every day.”

The statewide stay-at-home order has been in effect since March 21. Pritzker announced last week he was extending the order until May 30, with some changes that take effect Friday.

This article was first published by The Chicago Tribune.

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