While workers’ compensation claims involving traumatic or repetitive injuries may be fairly straightforward, claims involving occupational diseases are often complicated. The Illinois Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act gives Illinois employees the right to seek workers’ compensation benefits for occupational diseases caused by their jobs. However, identifying these illnesses and proving they are work-related is not always easy.
Occupational diseases may be caused by exposure to chemicals, heat, radiation, noise and other environmental conditions. When many people think of occupational diseases, they think of conditions such as lung cancer, but conditions that are not usually considered diseases, such as hearing loss, also qualify. Obtaining compensation for occupational diseases can be difficult because many of these conditions can arise from other causes, such as personal habits and environmental exposure.
Determining disease origins
Typically, occupational illnesses are identified when an illness is more common in a population of workers than among the general public. For example, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs have a heightened risk of certain illnesses, such as hypertension, vascular disease and diseases caused by blood-borne pathogens. Under the Illinois Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act, when these workers contract these diseases, the worker’s occupation is assumed to be the cause. It is the employer’s responsibility to prove the employee could have contracted the disease elsewhere.
In other occupations, the employee making the claim must prove the disease is work-related. To do this, an employee may document workplace conditions and evaluations of medical professionals to show the demands of the job caused the illness. Since most occupational diseases develop gradually, collecting evidence of workplace conditions can be difficult, as can reporting the disease within the legal deadline.
Deadlines for claims
Illinois employees are required to notify their employers as soon as they become aware that they have contracted an occupational disease. Unfortunately, victims are not eligible for benefits if disablement from the disease does not occur within a certain timeframe. In most cases, disablement must occur within two years of the last date of exposure to the workplace hazard. The deadline is extended to three years for employees who develop berylliosis or diseases related to asbestos or silica dust exposure. For employees exposed to radiation, the deadline is 25 years.
If disablement has occurred within these deadlines, an employee may seek compensation for medical expenses. Depending on the effects of the disease, employees are also entitled to temporary or permanent benefits for total or partial disability. If an employee’s ability to work is affected, he or she may also receive compensation to cover the costs of vocational rehabilitation, which includes retraining and searching for a new job.