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Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Essential Workers

While the current COVID-19 pandemic has left many people without employment, frontline workers and first responders have still continued to work. This has led to many frontline workers worried about contracting the coronavirus and what impact that would have on their income. However, this past week, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced an emergency rule.

This emergency rule establishes that a first responder or frontline worker that contracted COVID-19 during this pandemic and in their employment is covered under the state’s workers’ compensation system. Frontline workers include the following: police officers, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, healthcare providers, correction officers, grocery store and pharmacy employees, restaurant employees, agricultural workers, gas station employees, hardware store employees, postal workers, and any other profession that is considered to be essential during the Illinois “shelter-in-place” order.

Illinois’ emergency rule protects workers who have been concerned about losing income due to time off work if they were to contract the coronavirus. It is important that the rights of these frontline workers are protected, especially during these unprecedented times.

According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 9,000 healthcare workers in the U.S. have contracted COVID-19. The April 14th report revealed the urgency for efforts to ensure the health and safety of essential workers. Of these healthcare workers that have been infected, at least 27 have died.

However, the CDC admitted that these findings underestimate the number of infected healthcare workers across the country and does not include those who were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms; people that are less likely to be tested or even reported. This report adds to growing concerns for workers on the frontline of this pandemic whose health and safety is at risk.

Ensuring that healthcare workers have access to proper personal protective equipment (PPE) not only protects their health but the health of other healthcare providers and patients. The CDC’s report was released soon after the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General reported that hospitals nationwide were facing equipment shortages for N95 respirator masks, surgical masks, face shields, gowns, and gloves. In fact, these shortages have become so severe that some hospitals have been resorting to constructing their own medical-grade gear, such as cloth masks and handmade gowns.

These shortages have led to employment issues. For example, a woman was terminated from her job at the Research Medical Center in Kansas City, MO after refusing to work on a floor filled with suspected COVID-19 infected patients without an N95 respiratory mask. The employee felt like her life, as well as the lives of other nurses and patients, were being put at risk without having essential PPE.

The American Hospital Association acknowledged the fact that current supplies of PPE in hospitals are inadequate, which leaves healthcare workers concerned about their own protection. Apart from healthcare workers facing serious risk amid this pandemic, the coronavirus has claimed the lives of 30 grocery store workers across the country. The pandemic has caused thousands of grocery store workers to take off work due to contracting the respiratory illness.

Grocery store chains have increased efforts to slow the spread of the pandemic at supermarkets, but these frontline workers say that customers aren’t adhering to safety precautions and social distancing guidelines, only making matters worse. After two recent Walmart employee deaths from COVID-19 in the Chicago area, the retailer has increased safety measures by hiring a company to clean and sanitize high-touch surfaces at stores. Additionally, the pandemic has forced some food processing plants to close until further notice due to these facilities having many COVID-19 positive employees.

With essential workers still having to be on the frontlines of this pandemic each day, it is important for employers to take necessary measures to ensure their health and safety. If you have suffered from the COVID-19 infection and had to take off work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Contact the experienced attorneys at Spiros Law, P.C. to assist you with your legal matters today at (815) 929-9292. Although our physical offices are currently closed, our staff remains available to help over the phone, through online video chat, or on email.