It’s not uncommon for us to hear about an employee who got hurt on the job because they weren’t following proper safety precautions. An employer might have various consequences for employees who don’t follow safety rules, but they can’t take away your right to workers’ compensation benefits. Illinois law decides who can and can’t get these benefits, which include payment for lost wages and coverage of medical expenses. The law in Illinois says that you are eligible for benefits, even if you broke safety rules, as long as you were doing your job. This surprises some people, but the idea is that you were still doing something for the benefit of your employer when you got hurt. Just because you were doing it wrong, doesn’t mean you weren’t doing your job. If you were doing what you were hired to do, then you should be eligible for benefits in the event of an injury.
On the other hand, if you were doing something for your own personal benefit, you might be out of luck. Illinois law doesn’t extend benefits to employees who get hurt while doing something completely unrelated to their job. Of course, there are a million different scenarios and many of them end up in some gray area between these two rules.
If you were running a machine for your employer and suffered an eye injury because you weren’t wearing protective eyewear like you were supposed to, you should still be entitled to benefits. The same is true if you were driving to a job site and got in a vehicle accident because you were in a hurry to get there.
At the other end of the spectrum is a worker who is goofing around and riding on the back of a forklift for fun when the employer has a rule that they aren’t supposed to do that. If they get hurt, they probably won’t be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits because they were doing something for their own benefits – horsing around with their co-workers – and not doing anything for the benefit of their employer.
Along the same lines is the issue of fault in any work injury. Just like violation of safety rules doesn’t disqualify you, neither does the fact that an injury is your fault. Again, as long as you were doing your job, you should be covered. Fault is not an issue in workers’ compensation law. You are covered no matter what, as long as it’s work related. The same is true for the employer. Regardless of their fault, you are entitled to benefits.
Taking fault out of the equation is meant to simplify the process for getting benefits to workers and getting them back on the job. Employees give up their right to sue (lawsuits are not allowed in a work injury) and employers pay benefits regardless of fault.
An important note of caution: Don’t let the insurance company or your employer convince you that you are not entitled to benefits because you are at fault or because you violated company policy. It’s in their interest to make your claim go away. It’s in your best interest to talk to a lawyer and assert your rights. So just keep in mind that your employer is not necessarily on your side, and the insurance company most certainly isn’t.