Essential workers protected as Governor signs bipartisan workers comp / unemployment insurance changes into law

Governor JB Pritzker signed a bipartisan bill into law on Friday negotiated on behalf of Republicans by Assistant House Minority Leader Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, during the recent emergency special session in Springfield as the General Assembly reached agreement on COVID-related workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance changes specifically aimed at protecting essential workers.

“One area of Illinois law that needed to be updated immediately was the health coverage and compensation structure for persons who get COVID-19 while doing front-line, essential work for their neighbors,” Representative Wheeler said. “I was pleased to help negotiate this victory for these workers and their employers by making sure we got it across the finish line during the contentious special session. This new law represents the good that comes from Democrats and Republicans truly working together to solve problems that impact people’s lives in real-time.”

House Bill 2455, passed by the House of Representatives on May 22 by a vote of 113-2, extends unemployment insurance benefits for 20 weeks and brings the state in line for accepting $2.2 billion from the federal government for the unemployment insurance trust fund. The bipartisan bill also contains help including expanded unemployment benefits for out-of-work Illinoisans.  Upfront, during the duration of the pandemic, newly jobless people are no longer required to “wait a week,” before collecting benefits.  At the back end, persons made unemployed due to COVID-19 will have the right to collect up to 13 weeks of additional jobless benefits as they search for new employment. 

First responders and their families are among those covered by the protections in the new law. They will be able to appeal to what is called a “rebuttable presumption” – which requires hard evidence to overturn – that any case of COVID-19 they catch was contracted on the job.  

The unemployment insurance (UI) trust fund is being depleted due to the unprecedented increase in unemployment claims since mid-March. To protect employers from massive increases in UI rates, House Bill 2455 provides for the non-charging of employers with respect to employment experience factors resulting from layoffs forced by the COVID-19 from March 15, 2020 through December 31, 2020. 

Both business and labor negotiated these protections and benefit changes to Illinois’ workers’ compensation and UI benefits. Representative Wheeler serves the 50th District, which includes portions of Aurora, Batavia, Geneva, Campton Hills, Elburn, Montgomery, Oswego, Plano, St. Charles, Sugar Grove and Yorkville.