A work injury or occupational disease can cause major disruptions to your life—not only to your health, but also to your career, finances, and overall well-being. The Illinois workers' compensation system is designed to compensate you for some of those losses and get you back to work as soon as possible. The benefits you might receive will depend on your individual situation, including your medical condition and how much you earned before your injury. This article explains how the most important workers' comp benefits are calculated in Illinois.
Illinois Workers' Comp Eligibility Rules for Exposure to COVID-19 on the Job
Can you get workers' comp benefits for COVID-19 if you contracted the disease on the job? In Illinois, workers' comp covers occupational diseases as well as injuries from work accidents. Generally, in order to qualify for benefits for an occupational disease, you need medical evidence showing that the illness was directly caused by your job, and that the risk of exposure to the disease at work was greater than the risk faced by the general public. That could be very difficult when you're dealing with an infectious disease like COVID-19 that's widespread in the community.
However, Illinois amended the law in June 2020 to make it somewhat easier to qualify for workers' comp benefits for COVID-19 if you work in healthcare, as a first responder, or in a certain type of essential business (interacting with the public or in a workplace with at least 15 employees). If were diagnosed with the illness between March 9 and December 31, 2020, the law will presume that you have an occupational disease unless your employer proves otherwise. Among other kinds of evidence, your employer can overcome (or "rebut") that presumption by showing that it was fully implementing proper health and safety measures during the relevant time period, based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the Illinois Department of Health. (820 Ill. Comp. Stats. § 310/1.)
You may receive temporary total disability (TTD) benefits if you can't work while you're recovering from your work-related injury or illness, or if your employer can't give you modified light-duty work that accommodates your physical limitations. You won't receive these benefits for the first three lost work days unless you need at least 14 days off work. TTD benefits continue until your doctor says that your condition has improved as much as it's going to with treatment (known as "maximum medical improvement," or MMI).
The amount of your TTD benefits will be two-thirds of your pre-injury average weekly wage, up to a maximum amount that changes every six months. The maximum for the first half of 2020 was $1,549.07. (For different dates, you can find the maximum and minimum amounts of TTD, and other benefits on the Illinois benefit rates table.)
If you are able to return to light-duty or part-time work while you're recovering, you may receive temporary partial disability (TPD) benefits, which are calculated as two-thirds of the difference between what you would be earning at your pre-injury job and your current wages.
Example: You earned $950 per week before your injury and would have received a scheduled $50 raise while you were off work. You are now working part-time and earning $400 per week. You would take the difference between $1,000 (what you would have been making) and $400, which is $600. You would then receive two-thirds of that amount in PTD benefits, which is $400 per week.
Once you've reached MMI, your doctor will evaluate you to determine if your injury or occupational illness has left you with any permanent physical loss or disability—and if so, to what extent. You'll be considered permanently and totally disabled if you're unable to do any kind of work or if you've lost the use of both eyes, hands, arms, feet, or legs (or any two of those limbs). When that's the case, you will receive permanent total disability benefits for life, at the same rate as your TTD benefits.
If you've lost the use of some part of your body—which generally means you can't do some things you were able to do before your injury—you may receive one of the four types of permanent partial disability benefits available in Illinois: wage differential benefits, scheduled loss-of-use awards, unscheduled awards, or disfigurement benefits.
If you've been able to return to work but are earning less than you were before your injury because of your permanent partial disability, you might be entitled to a wage differential award. These benefits are two-thirds of the difference between what you're earning in your new job and what you would be earning at your pre-injury job. The payments will stop after five years or when you turn 67, whichever happens later.
If you've lost the use of certain parts of your body (such as your eyes, ears, and extremities), you may receive an award equal to 60% of your pre-injury average weekly wages, multiplied by a number of weeks shown in a schedule in Illinois law. For example, the schedule lists a total loss of use of a hand at 190 weeks. If you've lost 50% of the use of your hand, the multiplier would be 95 weeks. And if your pre-injury wages were $1,000 a week, you would receive a total of $57,000 ($600 x 95).
If you have a physical impairment that isn't listed on the schedule (such as an injury to your head, spine, or internal organs), you may receive a nonscheduled award equal to 60% of your pre-injury average weekly wage for a percentage of 500 weeks, based on the disability rating that your doctor has assigned to your condition. For example, say you have a permanent impairment resulting from a back injury, rated as a 25% impairment to the body as a whole, and your average weekly wage was $1,000. Your nonscheduled award would be $600 multiplied by 125 weeks (25% of 500 weeks), for a total of $75,000.
If you have a serious and permanent disfigurement to an area of your body that's commonly visible to the public—such as your face, head, neck, upper chest, arms, or lower legs—you may be entitled to receive an award equal to 60% of your pre-injury average weekly wage for up to 162 weeks, depending on the severity of the disfigurement.
Illinois workers' compensation also provides other benefits, including:
As you can see, workers' compensation only pays of a portion of your lost wages. Workers' comp also does not pay anything for the pain and suffering caused by your injury. While this may seem unfair, it's part of the trade-off that is the workers' comp system. The advantage of workers' comp is that you can get benefits relatively quickly without needing to file a lawsuit or prove that your employer was at fault for causing your injury. The downside is that you can't get compensated for the full value of your losses. (However, in some limited situations, you may be able to file a lawsuit outside of the workers' comp system.)