A new bill proposed in the Illinois senate, called Senate Bill 12, could have a dramatic effect on sports teams in Illinois. At the head of efforts to pass the bill is the NFL’s Chicago Bears, who claim that the bill will make workers' compensation fairer for those in other industries. The bill, which proposes a few changes to how workers’ compensation works in the state, would reduce how long professional athletes can recover benefits after a career-ending injury.
Under current Illinois law, professional athletes, including players for the Chicago Bears, can recover workers’ compensation benefits until the age of 67, the same as anyone who works in any other industry. The employer is responsible for paying out workers’ comp benefits for that time.
One of the issues some might point out with this is that NFL players usually have much shorter careers than employees in other industries, usually ending at around age 30. After that point, they obviously wouldn’t receive a salary. However, if a football player is badly injured at age 30 and can no longer play, he can receive benefits for 37 years thereafter, even though he wouldn’t have received a salary for that long had he not been injured.
On the other hand, someone working in any other industry would likely continue working until the age of 50 or 60 and, therefore, continue receiving a salary during that time. If he’s permanently disabled on the job and can no longer work, he loses his salary for those years. Workers’ compensation benefits would therefore help make up for that loss of income.
Senate Bill 12
The changes proposed by Illinois Senate Bill 12 would reduce the time for which a professional athlete can recover workers’ compensation wage differential benefits. The new limit proposed is age 35, or no more than 5 years after the injury (whichever comes later). This means that professional athletes can no longer recover wage differential due to an injury well past the point when they wouldn’t have gained a salary playing sports anyway.
While this is ostensibly intended to be fairer toward employees in other fields, it does pose some problems for Chicago Bears players and other sports teams. One of these issues is that of motive. The bill would save the owners a substantial sum, so some argue that is the real reason for the bill.
More practical issues come into play with free agents. Given the limitations on workers’ comp, this bill could put in place, it may deter free agents from signing on with the Bears, thus making it difficult for the team to get the talent it needs to play well.
Professional athletes are, as expected, opposed to the bill. Whether it will be passed or if a compromise will be reached remains to be seen.
In either case, workers’ comp will continue functioning in largely the same way until the bill passes. To learn more about workers’ compensation in Chicago or for help pursuing a claim of your own, contact Hart & David today.