COVID-19 Safe Workplace Training Illinois

Whether Illinois mandates Covid-19 safety training in the workplace has been an issue of considerable debate. Below, we discuss the Governor’s Order and state agency guidance, as well as potential liability issues that could arise if an employer does not properly training employees on workplace safety measures to minimize exposure to Covid-19 .

The Executive Order and State Agency Guidance

To assist employers in providing a healthy workplace amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) issued Return to Work toolkits, instructing employers to provide workplace safety training, along with other safety measures. Guidelines issued by DCEO entitled Checklist for Employee Training: Phase 4, specifically state: “[a]ll workers must complete health and safety training related to COVID-19 when initially returning to work.” The Governor subsequently issued Executive Order 2020-43, directing employers to comply with the DECO Return to Work toolkitsTaken together, the Governor’s Executive Order and DCEO’s Guidance appear to require businesses provide COVID-19 safety training to employees returning to the workplace.

However, some business entities have argued that the Executive Order does not cite the appropriate sections of law for enforcement of the Order and therefore it does not impose penalties for non-compliance. Littler, Illinois Returns to Work with Certain Conditions and Employer Requirements (June 8, 2020)

Nevertheless, the Governor’s Office and the Attorney General have taken the position that businesses must follow the Governor’s Order and DCEO Guidelines. In fact, the Attorney General’s website includes information on how to make COVID-19 workplace complaints and states that employees may “report a business that is not following the appropriate guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Although several lawsuits have been filed challenging the Governor’s authority to issue COVID-19 Orders, courts have largely held in favor of the Governor. 

Employer Liability Issues 

Regardless of whether the Governor’s Executive Orders are ultimately upheld, employers may still face liability for failing to provide employees with workplace safety training, as discussed below. 

Workplace Safety Enforcement

Under OSHA’s “General Duty” clause, employers must provide a safe and healthful workplace free from known hazards. There are four required elements of a General Duty Clause violation:

  • The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees were exposed;
  • The hazard was recognized;
  • The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and
  • There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard. 

Given how easily Covid-19 spreads, OSHA could reasonably issue a citation should the coronavirus permeate the workplace and an employer is unable to show it provided the required safe and healthful workplace free of known hazards. In the event such a claim arises, the employer can bolster its defense by showing it implemented the recommended safety precautions, including workplace safety training, consistent with the Governor’s Order and DCEO’s guidelines. 

Tort Claims

Workplace litigation relating to Covid-19 has sharply increased, highlighting the implications for non-compliance with state orders and workplace safety guidelines.

For example, liability for tort claims, such as wrongful death, can arise if the employee’s family can prove the employer acted “negligently” or “recklessly” in failing to provide a safe workplace. The potential to make such a claim increases with available contact tracing and a showing that the employer did not comply with the Governor’s Executive Order and DCEO guidance by failing to provide the necessary workplace safety training.

In a recent case against several McDonald’s franchises in Chicago, Illinois, a Circuit Court judge issued a preliminary injunction ordering the franchisees to train employees on proper social distancing and enforce mask-wearing policies, in compliance with the Governor’s Order. Five employees brought the lawsuit against the franchisees, claiming the restaurants acted negligently and created a public nuisance by not correctly training employees on social distancing and failing to enforce face-covering requirements. Relying on the Governor’s Order and state agency guidance, the court found plaintiffs were successful in showing that the possibility of infection at the workplace and subsequent injury was “highly probable.” As a result, the court ordered the franchisees to correctly train employees on social distancing and to properly enforce face-covering requirements.

Clear Law Institute has created an interactive, self-paced online training that complies with this training requirement, and similar requirements in other states, in addition to the OSHA guidelines that apply nationwide. Clear Law Institute’s COVID-19 Safe Workplace Training is fully narrated and includes numerous interactive animations, video demonstrations, and exercises.

Clear Law Institute provides online compliance training for more than 1,000 employers, handles training roll-out to employees, supports tech issues, and tracks course completion.

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