Among the many Illinois laws regulating workers’ compensation is a law restricting employers from retaliating against injured workers. An employer cannot demote or terminate an employee simply because they file for or receive workers’ compensation. However, what about an employee receiving workers’ compensation who has been terminated for some other reason? Last year the Illinois Supreme Court answered this question, a milestone decision which has had a positive impact on injured workers fight for benefits.
In 2003, Illinois union carpenter Jeff Urban injured his head, neck and back while working on the job for Interstate Scaffolding, Inc. As a result of his injuries, he was approved for workers’ compensation. When his injuries and medical treatments left him unable to work, he received Temporary Total Disability (TTD) benefits. When able to work only light duty jobs, he received a maintenance benefit (now known as "temporary partial disability benefits") which paid the difference between his normal income as a carpenter and the light-duty pay. In 2005, while still receiving benefits, Urban was fired for misconduct. After his firing, Interstate went on refuse to pay any further TTD benefits for Urban, despite his injuries not yet reaching maximum medical improvement (MMI). After appealing this decision to the Workers’ Compensation Commission, an arbitrator denied his right to benefits. Upon further review, the Commission overturned the arbitrator’s decision, citing that Urban’s injuries had not yet stabilized at the time he was terminated. Interstate appealed first at the circuit court, which upheld the Commission’s decision, and later with the appellate court, which reversed the Commission’s decision. By doing so, they stated, in effect, that an employee who is terminated for cause is not entitled to continue receiving workers’ compensation benefits.
Urban appealed the appellate court’s decision to the Illinois Supreme Court. There, he argued that the decision whether to award an injured worker TTD benefits should be based solely upon whether that employee’s condition has stabilized and achieved MMI. His or her dismissal should have no effect upon the benefits owed. Interstate, in turn, argued that an employee’s committing of a volitional act of misconduct unrelated to their injury which leads to his or her firing is essentially a refusal to work. And a refusal to do work for which one is medically cleared to perform is a legal justification for discontinuing workers’ compensation benefits.
Finally, in 2010, five years after his termination, the Supreme Court sided with Urban. They noted that nowhere in the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act was it written that TTD benefits could be terminated or suspended for an employee who continues to be injured but is terminated for cause unrelated to his or her injury. They went on to state, “We hold that an employer’s obligation to pay TTD benefits to an injured employee does not cease because the employee has been discharged – whether or not the discharge was for ‘cause.’ When an injured employee has been discharged by his employer, the determinative inquiry for deciding entitlement to TTD benefits remains, as always, whether the claimant’s condition has stabilized. If the injured employee is able to show that he continues to be temporarily totally disabled as a result of his work-related injury, the employee is entitled to TTD benefits.”
Almost immediately, the Supreme Court decision had a positive impact on similar cases of terminated or laid-off injured employees and their Chicago workers compensation attorney seeking restoration of workers compensation benefits. With new laws increasingly limiting workers’ compensation, victories such as these have proven vital in ensuring and protecting the rights of injured workers to receive fair treatment and compensation for their injuries.
About the Author: Brooke Haley marketing associate at Millon & Peskin, Chicago workers compensation lawyer that practice in the areas of Civil Litigation, Workers’ Compensation, and Personal Injury. Millon & Peskin is a General Civil Litigation Practice with the goal of representing the interests of injured workers, throughout all applicable Courts within the State of Illinois. For more information, please visit http://www.millonpeskin.com.