Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act Allows for the Termination of Employment Benefits After Firing

According to an Illinois Appellate Court, if an injured employee is fired for conduct related to his or her Illinois workers’ compensation claim, then he or she is not entitled to benefits for temporary disability under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. Interstate Scaffolding, Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Commission, 2008 WL 4658600 (W.C. Comm. Div., Oct. 20).

In Interstate Scaffolding, an Illinois worker was injured on the job when the emergency team dropped him from a backboard. The worker hit his head and suffered a concussion, blurred vision and other medical issues.

After returning to work with restrictions to light duty, the worker was found to have written “religious maxims” on the walls of a storage room. A few months later he was in a verbal confrontation with an assistant to the company’s president. Shortly after this occurred the worker was fired.

The legal question of first impression was whether or not this worker lost the right to his temporary total disability benefits (TTD) when he was fired for conduct that was allegedly unrelated to his workers’ compensation claim.

Under Illinois law, claimants seeking TTD benefits must prove only that they are not working, but that they are unable to work. The dispositive inquiry is whether the claimant’s condition has stabilized and whether the claimant has reached his or her maximum medical improvement. This requires a medical release to return to work, medical testimony or evidence concerning the claimant’s injury and the extent of the injury. Once the claimant has reached maximum medical improvement, the disabling condition has become permanent so he is no longer eligible for TTD benefits.

The dissent in this case held that

an employer, who terminates an injured employee and who discontinues the employee’s temporary benefits, has the burden to establish (a) that the employee violated a rule or policy, (b) that the employee was fired for a violation of that rule or policy, (c) that the violation would ordinarily result in the termination of a non-disabled employee, and (d) that the violation was a voluntary act within the control of the employee and not caused by the employee’s disability.

If the employer established that its employee engaged in some misconduct constituting a constructive refusal to perform work provided or to participate in a rehabilitation plan, then the burden shifts back to the employee to produce evidence to rebut the employer’s evidence.

It was argued that it is not sufficient to show that there is just cause for termination. The employer must show that there is just cause for the employer’s refusal to pay temporary disability benefits. This type of approach is to prevent an employer from using an infraction of the company policy as a pretext for terminating an injured employee and cutting off his temporary disability benefits.

For over 30 years Kreisman Law Offices has been handling the legal needs of Illinois workers and workers’ compensation claims in Illinois, serving areas such as Berwyn, Evanston, Naperville, and Wheeling.