Press "Enter" to skip to content

In Illinois, Workers Still Compensated if Drinking or High While Injured

Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn
Gov. Pat Quinn Photo by

While Gov. Pat Quinn stressed in his budget address last month that workers compensation reform is critical in the state of Illinois, some Illinois-based organizations worry the changes won’t come fast enough.

“We are taking the lead on that issue,” Quinn said in his February 16th address. “We need to build a system that understands the needs of business while protecting the rights and safety of workers.”

An October 2010 study by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services ranked Illinois as having the third-highest cost  in the country for workers compensation employers.

In the same study two years earlier, Illinois was ranked 10th.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce is one organization leading the charge to change state law and bring Illinois’ ranking down.

Doug Whitley, the president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks workers compensation costs in Illinois are exceedingly high and that it is the government’s responsibility to get those costs lowered.

“The government, I think, has an obligation to find ways to reduce the cost of doing business, and one of the major costs of doing business is workers compensation, he said.

In the Chamber’s Jobs Agenda, the business group recommends, among other things, giving a worker less or no compensation if injured while under the influence. Under Illinois’ current workers compensation laws, the worker would still be covered.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce wants Illinois to adopt a policy closer to one like Missouri’s, where a worker’s benefits can be cut in half or, in some cases, forfeited completely if the worker is injured while intoxicated or high.

But Marc Poulos, the executive director of the Indiana, Illinois and Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting, said that is the wrong mentality when it comes to both the welfare of employees and costs in the state.  Poulos often works with labor unions like Local 150 in Illinois.

“There’s nothing in the state of Illinois, unlike a lot of other states, that takes someone outside of the comp system when it comes to a drug or alcohol-related accident, and there’s a really good reason why that’s the case,” he said.

The “really good reason” according to Poulos, is that when workers aren’t covered under workers compensation if they are injured while under the influence, they will have to be covered by another program, such as Medicaid.

“What is the plan after they cut off their arm? Who’s taking care of this problem? Medicaid? That’s the plan. We’re going to put them on the failed Medicaid system,” Poulos said.

While legislation was passed in January 2008 that requires Illinois employers to have substance abuse prevention programs, workers compensation laws still say an employee will be compensated if they are hurt while drinking or on drugs.

Some lawmakers want to change that.

Rep. John Bradley (D-Il), along with Rep. Dan Brady (R-Il) proposed legislation in January that would change current Illinois standards so that workers who are injured while intoxicated or high would not be compensated.

“That seemed reasonable to me,” Bradley said. “That’s a common law, common sense provision.”

Bradley said the bill did not pass the Illinois House, in part due to significant pressure from unions.

“And there was not sufficient support within either the Republican or Democratic caucuses at that time to pass it,” he said. “I worked very hard in trying to get something done which, again, I thought would fairly treat people but could potentially have significant cost reduction.

Bradley said the governor is currently meeting with legislators to discuss the information from the hearings and the testimonials gathered over the last several months.

“We’ll do this to try and cut costs on workers comp. in the state, but at the same time make sure that legitimately injured people can be fairly treated as well,” he said.


Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *