When a worker in Illinois is injured on the job, he or she often is eligible to file for workers’ compensation benefits. State law in Illinois requires most employers to provide such coverage for their eligible employees. But as we explored in a recent article, the reality is that sadly some employers’ flout the law. Whether they allow coverage to lapse, never obtained coverage, or simply fail to pay awarded benefits, injured workers are the ones who suffer the most. Such workers, however, may not be without justice or options. As discussed in a previous article, employers in violation of the law may be fined and even jailed for failure to provide coverage. More importantly, such employers make themselves vulnerable to expensive lawsuits. While the Workers’ Compensation Act sheilds employers in most cases from lawsuits by injured workers, noncompliance may negate this protection. As such, employees may be able to seek a far greater amount for their injuries than would otherwise have been paid out by workers’ compensation coverage. Another possible option for workers without coverage, and the subject of this article, is the Illinois’ Injured Workers’ Benefit Fund.
For a worker, a job-related injury often makes them aware of how little they know about their rights. Not until they are hurt do many employees realize that what they’ve assumed about their benefits may not be entirely accurate. It’s often a shock to find that coverage and care for their injuries is hard to achieve, limited in scope, and at times, nonexistent. There are many aspects to the workers’ compensation system with which all employees should familiarize themselves. However, the most essential is this: does your employer carry workers’ compensation insurance? For Illinois workers, the good news is that most employers are required by law to carry some form of workers’ compensation insurance. Very few exemptions exist for employers to not provide their employees with coverage. But the truth remains, not all business owners comply with the law. It’s distressing for an employee who is injured on the job to find out too late that their employer has failed to obtain or maintain their coverage. Fortunately, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission provides guidance and assistance for workers whose employers are in noncompliance.
Spring has a dual personality. As winter fades, the sun is shining more, the breezes are warmer, and April showers really do bring May flowers. But those same showers also reflect the darker side to spring – harsh and violent storms. Not only do rain and lightning storms increase in frequency as the warmer months approach, North America’s deadly tornado season spans from April to June. While avoiding injury from these storms can be as simple as staying indoors, for those whose jobs require working outside, staying safe can be a challenge. One study by the Bureau of Labor statistics noted that eleven job-types classified as “outdoor work” made up a third of the reported job-related fatalities. So as spring storm season revs up, workers should understand the variety of hazards they may face.
At one time in our working career, many of us have worked in the food service industry. It’s practically a rite of passage as a teenager’s first job, pays tuition for numerous college students, and serves as a full-time career for many adults. In fact, approximately 9.7 million people in the United States work in the dining and beverage service industry. Though there are many advantages to these jobs, there are multiple drawbacks as well. Long hours, sore feet, and demanding customers are just a few of the downsides of the industry. A greater concern, however, is the number of safety and health hazards faced by food service workers.
Most workers today have heard of the condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome. While a few decades ago the injury was not well known or understood, now even those outside the medical community are aware it is a common and damaging workplace injury. However, many are still unaware that carpal tunnel has a sibling. This injury, known as tarsal tunnel syndrome (TTS), is very similar in cause and symptoms, but affects the leg and foot rather than the arm and hand. And though it is also a fairly common injury, lack of awareness about the condition among workers too often means that their pain goes unreported and untreated.
Be thankful the holidays featuring turkey are nearly a year away, otherwise a recent accident at the Jennie-O turkey plant might inspire you to make it a tofurkey Thanksgiving. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently cited the Jennie-O Turkey Store with eleven safety violations. The citations came after an inspection of the plant which was triggered by a gruesome accident in July 2011. In the incident, an employee’s arm was severed below the shoulder after becoming entangled in an energized turkey shackle. The worker was working alone in a confined space, and after the accidental amputation, had to travel down a flight of stairs and across a production floor by himself to obtain help from a co-worker. Predominant among the citations were violations of safety standards for working in confined spaces. Such working conditions are present across a variety of industries and professions, and carry with it a number of safety concerns.
For the injured worker, achieving workers’ compensation benefits should be simple. Many, at first, assume it will require just a few phone calls and some paperwork. And yet, seldom is it as easy as it should be. The required red-tape can seem designed to discourage rather than help an injured worker. And this becomes even more complicated when your employer or workers’ compensation insurance provider opposes your claim. Each claim costs them money, and regardless of how justified your claim, their policy is often to automatically block or limit it. In fact, a recent case in Illinois highlighted too well the type of tangled ploys an injured worker can face when fighting for their benefits.
The recent crash of the Costa Concordia cruise ship stunned even veteran cruise travelers and boating enthusiasts. Disturbing pictures of the listing ship are often accompanied by the rhetorical tagline: “Too big to sink?” In fact, the ship’s mammoth size and relative newness made the crash all the more shocking. Launched in 2006, the Costa Concordia was able to comfortably carry over 4,000 passengers and crew, was in excellent shape, and outfitted with modern sailing and safety technology. Despite having, in theory, everything needed to keep her passengers safe, this mammoth ship was undone by the same flaw that often causes such accidents: human error.
As the economy continues a frustratingly slow recovery from the “Great Recession,” many businesses and individuals alike still struggle to keep themselves financially afloat. Its toll is reflected in the continued high-rate of unemployment and ongoing layoffs. A significant effect of this downturn has been a rise in bankruptcy filings. With debt outpacing income, individuals and businesses have increasingly turned to filing for bankruptcy to relieve the financial pressure. For instance, in Illinois approximately 41,000 bankruptcy filings were made in 2007. By 2010, that number had doubled to 82,000. With this upsurge comes a growing concern for the many Illinois workers who are receiving or are in the process of filing for workers’ compensation benefits. Whether they personally or their employer is declaring bankruptcy, the question is the same: “How will bankruptcy affect my workers’ compensation benefits?”
Many of us are aware of the hazards in our workplace. Even for those who work in relatively low-risk environments, we all know injuries can and do happen. This is why workers’ compensation exists, to help workers who are injured while on the job. While most of us aren’t aware of the finer procedures and regulations surrounding the benefit, we are at least generally aware of its availability. What you may not know, however, is that workers’ compensation is not solely for helping injured workers. It may also provide benefits for survivors when a worker is killed on the job.