cunningham floor 052220SPRINGFIELD – A measure cosponsored by State Senator Bill Cunningham that would expand protections and eligibility for benefits for first responders and other essential employees during the COVID-19 pandemic passed the Illinois Senate Thursday.

“These men and women are putting themselves at great risk to provide us with the critical services we need during this pandemic,” said Cunningham, a Democrat who represents portions of Chicago and the southwest suburbs. “We need to ensure that they have adequate protections should they get sick as a result of their work.”

Though worker’s compensation does not normally cover illness, these are not normal times. Senate Bill 2455 allows employees to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits if the they contract COVID-19. 

However, the legislation also creates a mechanism for employers to rebut their claims.

Employers may rebut this presumption by:

  • Demonstrating that for at least 14 days prior to the date the employee claims injury, the workplace was following up-to-date public health guidelines appropriate to their type of business,
  • Demonstrating that the employee in question was working from home for a period of at least 14 days prior to the injury claim,
  • Or demonstrating that the employee was exposed to the virus by an alternative source outside the workplace.

The legislation also includes a similar rebuttable presumption for benefits provided to the families of Chicago police officers, firefighters and paramedics who die from COVID-19. Under the measure, it is presumed that they contracted the virus in the line of duty, affording their survivors with associated death benefits.

“Due to the nature of their work, our first responders are among those with the greatest risk of contracting COVID-19,” Cunningham said. “In the unfortunate case that a first responder passes from the virus as a result of their work, it’s essential that we make sure their family can access the benefits they are entitled to.”

The measure also makes changes to Illinois’ unemployment insurance system to help maximize the relief Illinois residents can receive from federal relief packages, including:

  • Extending benefits until funding is no longer available from the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act.
  • Waiving the one-week waiting period for claims related to COVID-19 until available funding under the CARES Act expires or the governor’s final disaster proclamation expires, whichever comes last.
  • Not charging employers for unemployment benefits paid to a person whose unemployment is the result of COVID-19.
  • Expanding unemployment insurance eligibility for non-instructional education employees, such as teacher’s aides and cafeteria workers.

“These provisions are critical to our residents’ ability to qualify for much needed funding from relief packages from the federal government,” Cunningham said. “I’m glad that the Senate was able to come together in a bipartisan fashion to get this done for our state.”

House Bill 2455 passed the Senate 50-4. 

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