A recent Illinois workers’ compensation decision, Interstate Scaffolding, Inc. v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, No. 107852, 2010 WL 199914 (Ill.Sup.Ct.), examined whether a worker was entitled to temporary total disability (TTD) benefits following his termination. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the Illinois Appellate Court’s decision, thus siding with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission’s assessment.
The facts of the case involved a union carpenter who suffered serious injuries to his head, neck, and back when he fell on his head en route to the hospital after suffering heatstroke on the job. Over the next two years, the Illinois carpenter was unable to return to his normal duties at Interstate Scaffolding, Inc. During this period he fluctuated between not working at all and times of working light duty per his doctor’s instructions.
Under Illinois workers’ compensation law, the injured worker received TTD workers’ compensation benefits from Interstate Scaffolding, Inc. when he was not working at all. Yet when he was working light-duty, the employee was eligible for an Illinois workers’ compensation maintenance benefit to account for the difference in his pay as a carpenter and his light-duty wage.
Sometime within those two years after the accident, the carpenter was involved in an altercation with a fellow employee and was fired as a result of it. At that point the carpenter filed an Application for Adjustment of Claim with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. As part of this claim the former employee’s medical records were entered into evidence and the carpenter testified that he continued to experience pain and numbness as a result of his fall. Furthermore, the carpenter stated that one of the doctors he had seen on Interstate’s instructions had recommended that he undergo a spinal fusion.
The arbitrator at the Industrial Commission found that the employee was not entitled to TTD benefits following his termination. However, the arbitrator gave no explanation of how and why he came to this conclusion. The decision was reviewed by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC) which determined that the employee was in fact entitled to TTD benefits for the five weeks between the time of his termination and the arbitration hearing.
The IWCC’s decision was appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court, who reversed the IWCC’s findings and reinstated the arbitrator’s decision that the employee was not entitled to further TTD benefits following his termination. Following this decision the worker appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.
The Illinois Supreme Court reviewed the case facts and overturned the Illinois Appellate Court’s decision that the employee was not entitled to benefits. The Supreme Court agreed with the IWCC’s ruling that he was entitled to TTD benefits from the period of his termination through the time of the arbitration.
In support of its decision, the Illinois Supreme Court stated that the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act does not permit the denial, suspension or termination of TTD benefits as a result of an employee’s termination. Furthermore, the court found that in the current claim it is unnecessary to make an inquiry into the reasons for the employee’s discharge from the company.
The deciding factor when determining if an employee is entitled to TTD benefits is whether the employee does in fact still have a temporarily total disability as a result of the work-related injury and whether that employee is able to return to the workforce. Therefore, it is not whether the employee left the workplace as a result of “volitional acts of conduct or misconduct that are unrelated to their disabling condition(s),” but rather whether the worker’s condition stabilized enough to allow him to reenter the workforce. And this theory does not only apply to the current case under review, but would be the decisive factor even when the employee was discharged by his employer.
When reviewing the case facts, the Supreme Court held that the carpenter’s condition had not stabilized, nor had it reached its maximum medical improvement at the time of his termination. Therefore, his employers had erroneously stopped payment of his TTD benefits. And because the fact that the employee had been fired was irrelevant, the court reinstated the Workers’ Compensation Commission’s decision.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois workers rights cases for over 30 years, serving those areas in and around Cook County, including Arlington Heights, Glenbrook, Bolingbrook, and Wilmette.
Similar blog posts: