Just as all other employers in the state of Illinois, Chicago employers are required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance for their employees. This ensures that when an employee is injured while performing work-related tasks, they will be able to collect benefits to cover any medical expenses and recover lost wages while away from work. The process and laws regarding workers’ compensation are enforced by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC/the Commission).
When a Chicago worker is injured on the job, they must file a claim in order to begin receiving any benefits. If any claims are disputed or problems arise during the claims process, the IWCC mediates, stepping in to protect workers’ rights.
Steps to Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim in Illinois
After being injured in an accident, it is extremely important that workers follow the appropriate procedures in the allotted time period stipulated by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. Not doing so puts them at risk of losing their benefits.
There are two basic steps that Chicago workers must take to file a claim in Illinois.
- Give Notification to the Employer – Anytime an accident happens at work, particularly one that involved injuries, the employer should be notified as soon as possible. Although notification can be provided either orally or in writing, it is preferable to submit a written notification as this immediately creates documentation of the incident. The notification should include the date/approximate time and place the accident occurred as well as a description of what happened and if the worker is seeing a doctor for injuries. It is important to remember that simply informing a co-worker that is not management does not count. According to the law, an Illinois worker has up to 45 days to inform their employer of the accident. The longer an injured worker waits to inform the employer, however, the longer it takes for benefits to start. Waiting longer than 45 days could result in the complete loss of workers’ compensation benefits. Exceptions exist for certain circumstances, such as repetitive motion injuries, which should be reported as soon as the employee becomes aware of them, and exposure to radiation, which should be reported within 90 days, amongst a few others.
- Submit the Application for Adjustment of Claim to the IWCC – Many injured workers neglect to file a claim directly with the Commission because their benefits may have already started after informing their employer. Even if benefits do start, however, it is important to file a claim directly with the IWCC in the event that there is a dispute down the road. In order to file a claim with the Commission, the injured worker should submit the Application for Adjustment of Claim either to their employer or directly to the Commission via mail or in person at their main office in Chicago. When submitting to the IWCC, the injured worker also needs to provide a Proof or Service that verifies the employer has been given a copy of the application. There is no fee for filing this claim and the form is the same, regardless of what type of injury was sustained. Typically, the injured employee must submit a claim within three years of the date of the workplace accident or within two years of the date of their last compensation payment for the claim to be considered valid. Of course, there are also exceptions to this rule for specific cases including:
- Asbestos-related Injuries – Workers have up to 25 years after the date of the last exposure for diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.
- Radiation exposure – A claim must be filed within 25 years of last exposure.
- Pneumoconiosis – A claim must be filed within 5 years of last exposure.
- Diseases Related to Silica Dust Inhalation – A claim must be filed within 3 years.
It is not mandatory to file the Application for Adjustment Claim and it may not be necessary if the employer begins paying benefits without incident. However, if the injured employee suspects there may be issues later on or the Commission may need to order benefit payments, this application should be filed promptly.
Protection for Workers Who File Workers’ Compensation Claims
There are many circumstances where injured workers do not file workers’ compensation claims because they fear retaliation from the employer. No worker should be fearful of losing their job or other retaliation due to filing a claim in Illinois and workers are therefore protected by law from retaliatory measures.
Common forms of retaliation an employer may use against an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim include:
- Terminating the employee;
- Reducing work hours;
- Discriminatory or hostile behaviors and attitudes; and/or
- Change in job duties or tasks.
Collecting Benefits After Injury
Once the injured worker has notified their employee of the accident and injury, workers’ compensation benefits for lost wages should begin on the fourth calendar day of missing work. If the injured worker can return to work before this no benefits are paid, and if they miss more than 14 days, the insurance must also go back and pay for the first three days of missed work. In addition, if the injured worker requires medical treatment, the employer is required to pay for any medical bills related to the injury and must do so in the form of medical benefits.
Problems with Filing a Claim or Receiving Benefits
It is not uncommon for workers’ compensation claims to be denied or for injured workers to have issues with benefits. When problems do arise, the injured worker can appeal with the IWCC. Handling the process alone, however, can be difficult and it is best to consult with a workers’ compensation attorney if you have serious injuries, problems with the employer, or have your claim denied.