Law might be changing on benefits for fired workers

In 2010, the Illinois Supreme Court decided a case that gave workers a better chance at keeping the benefits they’re entitled to, even if they get fired. In that case, known as International Scaffolding, the Illinois Supreme Court said that an employer must continue to pay an injured worker temporary total disability benefits (payments for a portion of lost wages while a worker recovers) even if that worker gets fired for cause. Getting fired for cause is when there is misconduct, like stealing from your employer, skipping work, etc.

The court said that an injured worker is entitled to TTD benefits until he or she reaches maximum medical improvement, meaning that their medical condition is stable. This ruling benefited injured workers by allowing them to receive compensation for a work injury despite what might happen in their employment down the road. In other words, if a worker is still recovering and getting treatment, the benefits should continue, because the law entitles them to those benefits. The determining factor is the worker’s recovery and not something that happens at work that is unrelated to the injury. Or so we thought.

A few weeks ago, the Commission announced a decision that goes against the rule. In this case, the employee was on light duty because of a work injury and then got fired for stealing cigarettes. The employer refused to pay TTD and the Commission agreed that the employer could do this. The arbitrator said that stealing cigarettes was similar to refusing to do light-duty work, and the law says that a worker who refuses light duty work does not get benefits. The decision doesn’t line up with the rule that was in effect the last couple of years, which put the focus on the employee’s medical condition and whether it had stabilized.

So, the law may be changing again. It’s still early, and the case could go through an appeal, but as of now, it serves to weaken an injured worker’s case. If an injured worker gets fired later on for something unrelated to their injury, this new case gives the employer and their insurance company a reason to at least attempt cutting off benefits. And an insurance company certainly isn’t going to let an opportunity like that pass them by. You can be sure they’re aware of this new ruling and ready to deny benefits for workers who get fired for cause.

I talked to the lawyer handling the case and it’s being appealed, but they also are trying to settle. So it may be that we have two cases out there which are used to make decisions on future cases, which means that the insurance company will try to deny you if they can.

Obviously the safest thing to do is not act like a knucklehead, but we all know that some times you can do the right thing and an employer will still make stuff up.

If you have any questions about what might happen to your benefits if you’ve been fired, let us know. Our goal is to help you understand what’s happening with the law and most importantly, what it means for you.

We are workers' compensation attorneys who help people with Illinois work injuries anywhere in IL via our statewide network of attorneys. Contact us and we will answer your questions or find the right lawyer for your situation.

11/04/12