If you live and work in Illinois and are injured while at work or under the direction of your employer, you're entitled to receive workers compensation payments to help repay you for any medical expenses, lost wages, or other costs associated with this injury. However, there are some big changes potentially coming to the Illinois workers compensation system that could affect the status of any future payments you may receive. Read on to learn more about these changes and what you may be able to expect if you're ever injured on the job in Illinois.
What changes are coming to Illinois workers compensation laws?
Currently, if you're injured while on the job or traveling to another work site at the direction of your employer, and promptly report this injury to your supervisor, you'll receive workers compensation payments to cover any medical bills or lost wages until you've healed enough to return to your normal work schedule. This is true even if your injury is not a brand-new one, but an aggravation of a pre-existing condition. For example, if you have spinal stenosis and receive regular chiropractic adjustments and steroid shots, you'll be able to have these costs (and any additional costs) covered if you pull a back muscle while lifting a heavy box.
On the other side of the coin, you may be prevented from receiving workers compensation payments for any pain and suffering experienced as a result of negligent or reckless actions on the employer's part. This can sometimes result in an inequitable outcome -- for example, if your employer removes a safety railing and a customer falls and is injured, your employer will be required to pay any medical expenses, lost wages, and potentially an additional amount for any pain and suffering experienced by the customer. If you, as an employee, fall and are injured due to the removal of this safety railing, you're permitted to recover medical expenses and lost wages only. Because damages for pain and suffering can often add to a substantial amount (particularly if the injury is severe), your status as employee can handicap you.
Recently, Illinois House Democrats passed a controversial bill that proposed to streamline and make more efficient the Illinois workers compensation system. Two of the main changes proposed in this bill are the reduction (or elimination) of benefits for employees who are injured while traveling to an alternate work site and the phasing out of benefits for pre-existing conditions. Although it's possible that the governor of Illinois will veto this bill, the support of the Illinois legislature likely means that permanent changes are soon coming for what is known as an employer-unfriendly state workers compensation system.
What could these changes mean for a future workers compensation claim?
If this bill is passed into law, you may be unable to seek payments for certain activities (such as work-related travel) while still prohibited from seeking pain and suffering damages if your employer is negligent. This means that it's a good idea to carry private short- and long-term disability insurance to help you pay the bills if you're injured at work and your workers compensation settlement isn't enough to cover your expenses. Often, you'll be able to purchase this insurance through your employer for a small fee. In other cases, it can be available through your health insurance provider or your life insurance provider.
You should also be proactive in reporting any negligent or unsafe employment conditions. Because your employer's negligence won't require them to pay out additional funds, documenting this negligence and reporting it to the proper authorities can help place some pressure on your employer to resolve these conditions. If higher workers compensation premiums aren't sufficient motivation, read more to see if visits and inspections from OSHA or other regulatory authorities may be.