Case name: Interstate Scaffolding, Inc. v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, et al., No. 107852 (Ill. 01/22/10).
Ruling: The Illinois Supreme Court determined a worker was entitled to collect temporary total disability benefits after his termination from light-duty work.
What it means: When an employee who is receiving workers' compensation benefits is terminated for conduct unrelated to the injury, the employer's obligation to pay TTD benefits continues until the employee's medical condition has stabilized and he has reached maximum medical improvement.
Summary: A carpenter injured his head and neck at work. He later returned to light-duty work. The employer accommodated the carpenter's work restrictions. He was terminated for defacing company property after he wrote religious graffiti on the walls and shelves in a storage room.
The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the denial of benefits based on his termination for cause. The court reinstated the TTD award, holding the carpenter could collect benefits after his termination. It reasoned that when a worker seeks TTD benefits, the determinative inquiry is whether he has reached MMI.
The employer argued that it could stop paying TTD benefits if the employee commits a voluntary act of misconduct that justifies his termination. The court rejected its argument, noting that the purpose of the Workers' Compensation Act -- providing financial protection for injured workers -- is not furthered by automatically denying TTD to an injured employee simply because he has been discharged. An injured employee's entitlement to TTD is a separate issue not conditioned on the propriety of the discharge, the court said.
The court explained that as long as the injured employee shows that he continues to be temporarily totally disabled because of his work-related injury, the employee is entitled to benefits. It noted that benefits may be suspended or terminated if an employee refuses medical treatment essential to his recovery or fails to cooperate in good faith with rehabilitation efforts. Because the carpenter had not yet reached MMI, he was still entitled to benefits.
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March 22, 2010
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