An Illinois Worker’s Compensation System for the 21st Century

Illinois’ workers’ compensation system was created at the turn of the 20th century; it was introduced at a time when a growing number of workers found themselves in dangerous industrial jobs. Although the American workplace has changed drastically since the early 1900s, Illinois’ workers’ compensation system has barely evolved from its original form. Today, workers find themselves with radically different needs – such as flexible work hours and the option of telecommuting – but employers’ efforts to find innovative solutions to meet those needs have been stymied by an outdated government program.

Workers’ compensation was originally designed to treat the rising number of severe workplace accidents that arose under Industrial Revolution work practices. But since the introduction of workers’ compensation, the manufacturing and mining industries have become far safer and employ far fewer Americans. The introduction of health and safety regulations has undermined much of the original rationale. A separate system for workplace injury means that many workers who now have employer-sponsored health coverage cannot see their usual doctors.

More importantly, the needs of the modern American worker have changed significantly, too. Today, Americans find themselves balancing work with child or elder care. Employers have sought to facilitate these changes by innovating new working practices such as telecommuting, flexible hours or results-based employment contracts that allow workers to balance work and home responsibilities as they need. But the workers’ compensation system remains rigidly wedded to outdated working practices and penalizes employers who try to accommodate workers’ changing needs.

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