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Illinois State Employee Says He Had To Quit After IDHS Refused To Allow Him To Keep Working From Home, Despite High COVID Risk

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A U.S. Marine Corps veteran said he did not want to resign his state job, but he was given no choice.

He said it was because his supervisors denied his request to continue working at home – even though he had a doctor's note saying COVID-19 could kill him.

And CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov has learned that several of his coworkers were given that same difficult choice.

For 10 months, Gov. JB Pritzker has stressed staying at home and social distancing to avoid spreading COVID-19. Phil – a Marine Corps veteran who wants to keep his last name private – believes those wellbeing concerns apply to everyone but state workers.

"The hypocrisy of the state sending me these emails every week from the director that we're looking out for you and we care for you, and we've got your best interest at heart," Phil said. "I worked for the state. No, you don't."

Phil worked as a case manager for the Illinois Department of Human Services for seven and a half years, based out of a Joliet office. He worked from home going back to April.

But when the IDHS director wanted employees to begin working two-week rotations in the office in October, Phil submitted this doctor's note with a request to stay remote.

"All I wanted to do, Dana, was continue to work from home," Phil told Kozlov. "That was it."

The note cited several health issues - his Veterans Administration doctor writing Phil "is at high risk for developing severe complications, including sepsis and death, if he were exposed to COVID-19."

The Department's response to Phil's request was a flat no, on the grounds that "modifications are sufficient."

"I sent an email to the administrator. I'm like, you know, how could you deny this when it clearly states in the note I'm high-risk with the COVID?" Phil said, "and I got no response back."

Phil said he used all of his sick and personal time for that two-week stint and returned to remote working, only to be stripped of his former cases and left with one choice - come back to the office or else.

"I'm out of sick days and personal time. I'm out of options," he said, "and I was forced to resign under duress."

Phil's last work evaluation shows he met or exceeded all expectations. He reached out to his union rep, who told him he was preparing a grievance because IDHS "continued to stonewall a number of our members who have been asking for these modified work schedules."

Phil has also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.

"I did not deserve to be treated like this," Phil said. "I did not."

The AFSCME union spokesperson confirmed there is a grievance and said is still in pre-arbitration, and 50 employees are included.

As for Kozlov's inquiry to the Illinois Department of Human Services about this matter, it had not been answered as of Thursday night.

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