The Illinois Workers’ Compensation and Occupational Diseases Act requires nearly every employer in Illinois to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Therefore, employers in Illinois who fail to initiate and maintain coverage are in violation of state law. The implication of this violation for employees is a potentially devastating scenario in which there is no recourse for a workplace accident that incurs lost wages and medical costs.
In order to prevent employees from financial vulnerability to a workplace injury when workers’ compensation is unavailable, in 2005 the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission created the Illinois Injured Workers’ Benefit Fund. This fund acts as an intermediary between uninsured employers and injured employees. Specifically, the IWCC assesses monetary penalties to uninsured employers, the funds of which are deposited in the IWBF. These funds are then available to injured employees of uninsured employers.
Process is more complex
While the creation of the IWBF represents a welcome alternative to the possibility of no workers’ compensation from an uninsured employer, the process of filing an IWBF claim is more complex and leaves less room for error. To illustrate, the injured worker is responsible for the following:
- Naming the IWBF in the claim
- Establishing that the employer was uninsured through the state
- Trying the case before an arbitrator
- Submitting documentation of any award received within 90 days
The added measure of complexity inherent in the IWBF claim process further strengthens the argument for hiring a workers’ compensation attorney in order to increase the probability of a successful claim.
Limitations to the IWBF
In addition to the complexity of the process of filing an IWBF claim, there are limitations associated with receiving awards through an IWBF claim. One of these limitations is the fact that the IWCC only allows claimants to proceed one time against the IWBF. Consequently, if the first claim against the IWBF is unsuccessful, further options for collecting workers’ compensation benefits are unlikely.
Another limitation associated seeking and receiving workers’ compensation through the IWBF is that the fund only distributes awards once per year. Specifically, awards are distributed only at the end of each fiscal year, which falls on June 30. This rigid distribution schedule creates a challenge for claimants who must operate for potentially up to a year without compensation for lost wages or medical costs.
Finally, the IWBF is not an unlimited pool of resources. Any awards that are distributed to claimants must be funded through fines collected from uninsured employers. For this reason, the IWBF may not always be capable of funding 100% of the claimant’s award. If the availability of resources in the fund is low, the IWCC will determine distribution on a pro rata basis.