Did you know that signing up for a free and secure my Social Security account provides personalized tools for everyone, whether you receive benefits or not? You can use your account to request a replacement Social Security card, check the status of an application, estimate future benefits, or manage the benefits you already receive? Since Social Security closures began in March 2020, the Social Security Administration has taken steps to provide a majority of information online?
I don’t receive benefits, why should I create an account?
Even if you are still actively working there are many essential services that can be handled online. You can request a replacement Social Security card; Get personalized retirement benefit estimates; Get estimates for spouse’s benefits; Get proof that you do not receive benefits; Check your application status and more!
As gas prices continue to soar, another major concern is impacting many Illinois drivers. According to data kept by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 42,060 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars /2021/03 /05/ pandemic-travel-traffic-deaths-up-8-2020-despite-driving-less/4590942001/ This figure represents an 8% increase from 2019. The increase in fatalities is the highest seen in nearly one hundred years – back when many people were driving their brand new Ford Model T’s. With vehicle traffic down sharply during the pandemic, many would wonder why this increase has happened. The root cause of this increase appears to be a substantial rise in high speed fatalities all of which are a result of drivers simply disregarding perhaps the most basic traffic rule. While many of the fatalities seen on our highways before the pandemic were due to violent trucking crashes, the trend on our roadways appears to be increasing due to the reckless operation of passenger cars. As we reach the halfway point in the year, it does not appear that this trend is reversing with increased traffic on our roadways. https://www.cmap.illinois.gov/ updates/all/-/asset_publisher/UIMfSLnFfMB6/content/covid-affects-transportation-update
Reducing speed is a simple way to prevent injuries and death, but being cautious on the road and watching out for motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians is probably even more important. The reason for this is because most traffic crashes happen within 4.6 miles of our homes.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4375775/#:~:text=The%20median%20distance%20between%20home,occur%20very%20close%20to%20home. Even more concerning is that the average vehicle to pedestrian collision is 1.1 miles from home and a vehicle to cycle collision is 1.2 miles from home. As many of our fellow citizens seem to be demonstrating less consideration for each other on the roadways, the sheer volume of e-commerce deliveries are increasing the risk of harm to our loved ones. It’s fair to estimate that e-commerce deliveries by Amazon, UPS, and FedEx have grown 13-16% every year with no slow down on the horizon. https://www.truckinginfo.com/324451/how-is-the-growth-of-e-commerce-affecting-trucking It stands to reason that the more e-commerce orders we place, the more the risk of harm increases from e-commerce vehicle collisions of all kinds. Although UPS maintains a union workforce, their competitors do not and will not. Along with a non-unionized fleet of drivers comes more turnover, less training, and generally less incentive for safety. It is dangerous enough that Amazon clearly prioritizes profits over safety, but when Amazon’s Flex drivers are injured they are immediately denied workers’ compensation benefits because Amazon considers them independent contractors rather than employees despite telling the Flex drivers how to do their jobs. As the movement to unionize at Amazon grows, there is hope that Amazon Flex drivers will be given fairer treatment by a company worth nearly two trillion dollars.
Not unlike Amazon, gig economy companies like Lyft, Uber-Rasier LLC, DoorDash, GrubHub, and Postmates have a business plan that places profit over prevention of injury. Quite simply, these taxi replacements and food delivery companies enjoy all the benefits of having employees without any of the responsibilities that come with it. Uber drivers are not paid by Uber. Instead, they are paid by Rasier LLC. This allows Uber to control more drivers on more roads and never take responsibility for their driver’s when they cause collisions. Gig economy companies have only recently begun conducting background checks, but alarmingly they do not require their drivers to have any special licensing or any special training. Quite simply, if gig economy employees were given basic training, they would drive safer. Not surprisingly, Uber is reluctant to release many of the traffic crash statistics that they compile. https://techcrunch.com/ 2019/12/05/ubers-fatal-accident-tally-shows-low-rates-but-excludes-key-numbers/ Clearly, the frequency of injuries and fatalities will increase due to gig economy companies like Amazon, Lyft, Uber, Doordash, Grubhub, and a Postmates. Unless and until these companies are held accountable in court, they will take advantage of victims regardless of whether they are injured by a gig economy vehicle or are injured driving a gig economy vehicle.
This discussion is a continuation of our firm’s information regarding your rights for COVID related injuries. Please view Part 1 on the firm’s YouTube Channel at: https://youtu.be/dO7G6MBxNR4 for Richard Johnson’s discussion of COVID injuries being covered under The Illinois Occupational Disease Act and Illinois Workers’ Compensation Law.
As our nation is seeing a rapid rate of COVID vaccinations being administered, unfortunately some individuals will have adverse reactions that result in serious injury or death. In Illinois, it is well established that adverse reactions as a consequence of employer required vaccinations may be compensable and entitle the injured worker to workers’ compensation benefits.
Legal authority for this type of injury is set out in Section 11 of The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. The Statute provides as follows:
As the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccinations become increasingly available to the general public, many employees and unions may be questioning whether it is legal for employers to force their employees to receive vaccinations as a condition of employment. Interestingly enough, Katz, Friedman’s Senior Labor Partner, Stanley Eisenstein, was recently asked that very question in an appearance on Channel 7, ABC Chicago’s local news affiliate.
The short answer to the question is, “Yes.” Generally speaking, employers in the United States can require employees to receive vaccinations as a condition of continued employment. However, there may be some exceptions. For instance, if you are part of a union covered by a collective bargaining agreement, then your employer may have a duty to bargain with the union over any mandatory vaccination policies and procedures. There may also be exceptions or limitations on an employer’s ability to mandate vaccinations under certain federal employment statutes if, for instance, an employee requests an exemption based upon a disability or a sincerely held religious belief.
General Right of Employers to Require Vaccinations for At-Will Employees
In early 2021, United Continental Holdings (commonly known as UAL) began offering its flight attendants a Voluntary Separation Leave package with additional benefits to encourage voluntary separation from the company. As a term of the separation agreement, the flight attendant must waive his or her right to pursue legal claims and release United from liability related to his or her employment with and/or separation from United. Flight attendants are understandably concerned that this may affect their right to file a workers’ compensation claim and collect benefits for work related injuries.
This agreement does carve out some exceptions, including the right of the flight attendant to claim workers’ compensation benefits. This means that accepting the VSL does not forfeit your right in a workers’ compensation claim! Remember that you have three years from the date of the accident or two years from the last payment of compensation to file any Illinois workers’ compensation claim. You may file the workers’ compensation claim even after accepting the VSL.
However, flight attendants considering accepting this agreement should note that by signing the VLS agreement, the flight attendant is certifying that he or she had “no unreported on-the-job injuries”. By signing this agreement, the flight attendant who suffered unreported injuries or Occupational disease exposures in the past may jeopardize his or her right to obtain workers’ compensation benefits in the future. Accordingly, if a flight attendant has an unfiled workers’ compensation claim, it will typically be in his or her best interest to report the injury and file the claim with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (not just Sedgwick) prior to signing the VSL agreement to protect his or her right to workers’ compensation benefits. However, every case is different and this blog is not intended to provide legal advice, simply guidance and things to consider.
As the world continues to slog through the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, it is impossible to escape the phrase “essential worker.” We hear the phrase peppered into news reports and conversations so frequently that it has become a received truth – that is, something we largely accept without stopping and thinking critically about its meaning. But what precisely does “essential worker” mean, and to whom does it apply?
A Google search for “essential worker” retrieves results in the millions, so there is no quick and easy way to definitively navigate the boggy question of who an essential worker is. Fortunately for Illinoisans, Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Executive Order 2020-10, issued in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, helps provide some clarity. Section 12 of the Executive Order defines “Essential Businesses and Operations” as healthcare and public health operations, human services operations, essential government functions, essential infrastructure, and a swathe of other businesses, including – but not limited to – grocery stores, pharmacies, food and beverage production, animal shelters, charities and social services, newspapers, radio stations, gas stations, financial institutions, hardware stores, building and construction trades, mail and delivery services, laundry services, restaurants, transportation, day cares, residential facilities, and a litany of other entities – the full list is available here.
Defining what an essential worker is more than just an academic exercise – it has real-life consequences for those workers and their families. This is most especially evident with the advent of the “COVID presumption” the General Assembly added to the Illinois Occupational Diseases Act last year and updated last week. This creates a rebuttable presumption that those essential workers covered in the Executive Order who contract COVID-19 did so in the workplace – provided that their work requires them to encounter members of the general public or to work in locations of more than 15 employees 1. For fuller context, in 2020 Governor Pritzker signed into law HB2455, which created this rebuttable presumption; however, this presumption was only applicable to cases in which a diagnosis of COVID-19 was made on or after March 9, 2020 and on or before December 31, 20202. On January 13, 2021, the Illinois General Assembly passed HB4276, which extends this “COVID presumption” to diagnoses through June 30, 2021.
We have heard stories from our clients and other attorneys about the difficulties that working men and women are having balancing their desire to be safe during the Covid-19 pandemic while earning a living or giving their children an education. We have heard about factories where there have been many positive tests. Sometimes were hear about all the steps management has taken to try to reduce the spread of the disease and sometimes we hear about management that is only focused on production and doesn’t really seem to care about the safety of their employees.
We have also heard about workers who have no choice but to face an increased risk of getting Covid-19. These are the first responders, police, and fire and healthcare workers. There are delivery drivers. There are grocery store workers and restaurant staff. There are teachers who are caught between the competing legitimate desires to remain safe and yet complete the mission of educating our children.
We have slowly started returning to some union halls to meet our clients. Those locals are very protective and make sure that there are a limited number of people in the building, that everybody practices social distancing, that there is plenty of hand sanitizer around and that everybody is wearing a mask. We had a number of paper masks with our firm’s name and number on it that we bring with us when we travel to these union halls. If somebody needs a mask, we have one for them.
Unfortunately, given the current health crisis due to Covid-19/Coronavirus, many companies and employers are facing financial difficulties. Injured workers are understandably concerned about what will happen to their claims if their employers go out of business. Don’t panic, but best to get help. The good news is that a workers’ compensation claim typically survives whether the employer is actively operating its business or not.
The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act requires that employers carry workers’ compensation insurance unless it is allowed to self-insure. Most small and midsized employers, and many large employers, do carry workers’ compensation insurance. When an insured employer goes out of business, the insurance carrier typically remains liable for coverage of the workers’ compensation claim. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act permits us to file the claim directly against the Insurance Company in these situations. There may be delays in benefits, court hearings and settlements due to bankruptcy court “stay” orders on all litigation. However, many injured workers’ claims can be kept on course under most circumstances, with the insurance company paying for medical treatment and disability benefits.
If the workers’ compensation insurance company were to go out of business, then the claim typically would be handled by the Illinois Guarantee Fund. When this happens, the claim would still be active, but would be paid by the Illinois Guarantee Fund instead of the original insurance company. This is not a desirable situation as the Illinois Guarantee Fund is not always fully funding the settlement claims.
Chicago issued an emergency travel order which began at 12:01 a.m. Monday and will remain in effect until further notice.[i] This means that anyone who has contact with one of fifteen states (listed in the travel order) and enters into Chicago will need to quarantine for 14 days. This applies to those individuals visiting Chicago or returning to Chicago from visiting those states.
States included in the order are: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.
The rationale for this emergency travel order is that these States are seeing significant increases in COVID-19 cases and infection rates. Some of these states are reporting record numbers. What this means for Chicago-area workers that revolve around or relate to those types of industries that deal with interstate travel is that they now might have a higher probability of contracting COVID-19 then they were weeks or months ago.