Illinois Workers’ Compensation: Temporary Total Disability Benefits Light Duty and Termination
Temporary total disability benefits can be awarded in situations where an individual is injured in relation to his or her employment. This type of benefit assumes that the individual cannot work for a period of time, as prescribed by his or her treating physician. The benefit may also be awarded if the individual can still do some light duty work, but the employer cannot find them a position to do the prescribed light duty work. The amount of benefit varies for each individual because it is usually about two-thirds of their average salary.
Does Termination sever worker's right to Temporary Total Disability Benefits?In 2010, the Illinois Supreme Court explained that benefits relating to temporary total disability payments are governed by the Workers’ Compensation Act. Interstate Scaffolding, Inc. v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Com’n, 236 Ill.2d 132, 145 (2010); see also 820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 2006). The Court concluded that even if the employee is terminated from employment, it does not alter the benefits under temporary total disability. Additionally, the temporary total disability benefits will continue even if the employee receives social security benefits or disability pension benefits.
The Court further explained that the appropriate “test is whether the employee remains temporarily totally disabled as a result of a work-related injury and whether the employee is capable of returning to the work force.”
Losing Temporary Total Disability Benefits Exceptions to the General RuleHowever, benefits can be discontinued if the injured employee refuses treatment or refuses to work when given work opportunities that their doctor allows within their injured state. The Workers’ Compensation Act, the Court concluded, should be construed liberally so that its main purpose, “financial protection for injured workers,” is achieved. Therefore, the Court reasoned that the obligation to pay temporary total disability benefits does not automatically cease because an employer terminates an employee from employment “whether or not the discharge was for cause.”
In late 2012, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission had the opportunity to interpret the Interstate Scaffolding decision in determining whether an employee’s temporary total disability payments would continue after he was terminated from employment for stealing cigarettes from the employer. The Commission stated, “We do not believe that the Interstate Scaffolding decision stands for the proposition that an injured employee, whose employment has been terminated, has an unqualified or absolute right to temporary total disability benefits so long as the employee’s condition has not stabilized and the employee is under light duty restrictions.” Matuszczak v. Wal-Mart, 12 I.W.C.C. 1079 (Oct. 5, 2012). The Commission went on to explain that they did not think that benefits should be automatically terminated, but could be terminated if the injured party’s “physical condition has stabilized. ”The employee in that case conceded that he knew stealing the cigarettes was wrong and that his employer could fire him for stealing. However, he also thought that but for the discharge, he would still be working on light work duty. That is, he had not fully recovered from his work-related injury. The Commission specifically stated that they assumed Interstate Scaffolding directed them not to look into the details of the termination from work when determining whether temporary total disability benefits should continue. However, the Commission also went on to explain that when the employee repeatedly took actions that he knew could get him fired, he was actually refusing his light duty work. Therefore, according to Interstate Scaffolding, if he refused his light duty work, then his temporary total disability could be discontinued. Therefore, the Commission allowed his benefits to discontinue even though the employee did not fully recover from his work-related injury.