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COVID-19 and Possible Changes to Workers' Compensation Laws in Illinois and Missouri

As employees slowly begin to return to work in “the new normal” following mandatory stay-at-home orders across the country, employers in Illinois and Missouri are busy establishing policies in compliance with opening orders and guidelines. To mitigate the risk of potential workers’ compensation claims, employers should be aware of possible changes to workers’ compensation laws due to COVID-19 exposure in the workplace.

On April 13, 2020, the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission passed an emergency rule in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  This rule created a rebuttable presumption of compensability in favor of employees classified as first responders and essential front-line workers during the COVID-19 state of emergency.  For those individuals, the rule imposed a rebuttable presumption that the individual’s exposure arises out of and in the course of employment and is causally connected to their employment. 

In response, the Illinois Manufacturers Association and Illinois Retail Merchants Association requested a Temporary Restraining Order, which was granted on April 24, 2020.  The emergency rule was thereafter withdrawn by the IWCC.  COVID-19 may still be considered a compensable occupational disease under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, but there is no longer a rebuttable presumption of compensability following withdrawal of the rule. 

In Missouri, Governor Mike Parson directed the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to implement an emergency rule that will provide workers compensation benefits to first responders who contract COVID-19.  On April 7, 2020, the Department of Labor and its Division of Workers’ Compensation filed an emergency rule creating a presumption that First Responders infected by or quarantined due to COVID-19 are deemed to have contracted a contagious or communicable occupational disease arising out of and in the course of the performance of their employment.  “First Responders” include law enforcement officers, firefighters or an emergency medical technicians.  

The presumption created by the rule is rebuttable in the event a subsequent medical determination establishes by clear and convincing evidence that (1) the First Responder did not actually have COVID-19, or (2) the First Responder contracted or was quarantined for COVID-19 resulting from exposure that was not related to the First Responder’s employment.

The Labor and Industrial Relations Commission voted unanimously to approve the emergency rule on April 8, 2020, with an effective date of April 21, 2020.  However, the rule is retroactive.  The full text of 8 CSR 50-5.005 can be found here.

Unlike the emergency rule attempted in Illinois, only First Responders are provided with a presumption of an occupational disease under the Missouri emergency rule.  To date,  no further amendments  have been introduced to expand the presumption created by the emergency rule to  non-First Responders, however, as more and more businesses slowly open following the lifting of the stay-at-home orders issued through Missouri, employers may find themselves receiving COVID-19-related workers’ compensation claims.  COVID-19 has been classified as a communicable disease by the State of Missouri and communicable diseases are included in the definition of “occupational disease” under Missouri Workers’ Compensation Law.

As in all states, laws and regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic are ever-changing in Illinois and Missouri.  The area of workers’ compensation is no exception and additional changes and expansions to the current laws are possible.    Employers in both states should remain aware of those changes in order to better anticipate potential claims, mitigate risk and create workplaces that protect employees from exposure to the best of their ability.