Repetitive injuries and Illinois workers’ compensation
Many Chicago employees are at risk for repetitive stress injuries, regardless of whether their jobs are labor-intensive or only mildly physical. Injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis, tendonitis, and back injuries can happen to almost anyone who performs a repetitive task all day, whether the task is lifting heavy objects or typing. Fortunately, Illinois employees have the right to seek compensation for repetitive stress injuries caused by their jobs.
New and existing conditions
Under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, employees can seek workers’ compensation benefits for any injuries occurring in the line of work. An employee who had a pre-existing condition is not precluded from seeking compensation for a stress injury. However, the employee must show that the specific demands of his or her job exacerbated the pre-existing condition.
For an employee to win compensation, the nature of the job must clearly put the employee at a higher risk of sustaining the injury than the general population. For instance, an employee who stands all day on concrete flooring and eventually sustains a foot injury would typically not receive compensation, since most people regularly walk on concrete and face the same injury risk. However, an employee who sustains a stress injury from performing tasks unique to the job or environment, such as walking on uneven surfaces or carrying a heavy load, may be entitled to compensation.
It may be easier for employees with unusual job duties to prove those duties led to a repetitive stress injury. In 2011, a number of prison wardens employed at one Illinois correctional facility were awarded workers’ compensation for carpal tunnel syndrome. The wardens’ daily duties included turning keys in heavy locks and rapping on bars to check for weaknesses, which are both tasks that put extra strain on the wrist. Although unusual, these repetitive stress injuries clearly were injuries the general public was not at risk for.
The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act requires employees to provide their employers with notification of an injury within 45 days of its occurrence. However, since repetitive stress injuries develop gradually, the law allows employees to provide notification within 45 days of when they identify the injury and realize it is work-related.
Unfortunately, some employees may seek medical attention, learn their conditions could be work-related, and postpone informing their employers until the pain becomes intolerable or interferes with their job performance. By this point, employees may have exceeded the notification period and lost their eligibility for workers’ compensation. This is why employees should make sure to see a doctor about any concerns and seek legal advice if they learn an injury may be work-related.