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Worker’s Compensation as an Employer Privacy Defense? Nope.

On Behalf of | Sep 25, 2020 | Firm News |

I’ve written before in the pages of this blog about the flurry of litigation regarding the misuse and mishandling of personal information (usually involving fingerprinting of employees) under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. One of the most common defenses on the part of employers to claims under the law have been that the claims are invalid because they are of a sort of claim that can only be brought through the Illinois Worker’s Compensation system, not as class actions in civil court.

Since there is no such thing as a class action in Worker’s Compensation, the individually minor privacy violations of the employees would be unfeasible to bring under that system, effectively preventing the rights under the Biometric Privacy Act from being enforceable in the context of employees and employers. However, that Employer argument was struck a heavy blow by the First District Appellate Court in Chicago on September 18 when it ruled that the statutory cause of action under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act was not barred by the restrictions on civil actions against employers put in place by the Worker’s Compensation Act.

Fundamentally, the Court’s logic is straightforward: the exclusivity provision of the Worker’s Compensation Act applies only to damages and injuries that are actually compensable under the Act. The remedies under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act provide for liquidated damages—they don’t even actually require a showing of injury or damage to the Plaintiff, just that the offending party violated the Act. Since you can’t claim these types of injuries under the Worker’s Compensation Act, employers cannot claim that the Act prevents employees from suing them for them under other laws, like the Biometric Privacy Act.

While this may not seem like an earth-shattering decision, it is extremely important in that it demonstrates that the Illinois courts are still willing to limit the ability of Employers to use the Worker’s Compensation Act as a shield against liability in other areas of the law, and is further able to make distinctions about different types of relief and injuries when applying the exclusivity provisions of the Worker’s Compensation Act. This has implications for many other areas of law involving conflicts between employees and employers.

-Attorney Travis Dunn