Illinois Supreme Court Finds Employees Terminated for Cause Must Still Be Paid TTD
By John F. Kamin and Christopher S. Crawford
Recently the Illinois Supreme Court issued an unfavorable decision for employers. In Interstate Scaffolding v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, the Court held that TTD is owed to an employee even when fired for cause. In Interstate, the worker suffered injuries to his head, neck and back on July 2, 2003. During his recovery, he was able to work light duty at various periods. In April of 2005, the worker had written religious graffiti in the storage room at the employer’s premises. This led to his termination. At the time of his termination, he was working light duty. TTD benefits following his termination were denied by the arbitrator. On review, the Commission reversed the arbitrator’s finding ordering payment of TTD from the date of termination to arbitration. Respondent appealed. The Appellate Court reversed the Commission’s decision and found that the Petitioner was not entitled to TTD benefits after his termination “for cause”.
Petitioner appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court which reversed. The Court held that there was no statutory support that TTD benefits can be denied on account of a Petitioner’s volitional conduct unrelated to his injury. The Court held that an employer’s obligation to pay TTD benefits does not cease because an employee is discharged for cause. The determinative inquiry of whether the Petitioner is entitled to TTD benefits is whether his condition has stabilized. An employee is entitled to TTD benefits if he can show that he is temporarily totally disabled because of his injury.
An employer is not prohibited from terminating an employee for cause. However, the employer will be obligated to pay TTD benefits if the terminated employee’s medical condition has not stabilized and the condition is related to the underlying work accident. This case does not apply to those instances where an employee voluntarily resigns his employment or where an employee refuses light duty work.
Employers had previously denied TTD benefits where an employee had been terminated for cause while on light duty. Denial of benefits seemed justified where but for the termination for cause work would be available for the employee. This argument is no longer available to employers. Rather, an employer must pay TTD benefits unless the employee has voluntarily resigned his employment, quit or refused light duty prior to the stabilization of his medical condition. We doubt the legislature will remedy the effects of this decision, and our hope is that the courts will not create a policy which encourages employees to take actions while on light duty with the intent to be terminated in order instead to collect TTD. Employees should not be allowed to smoke a crack pipe while performing light duty work and then collect TTD because they are fired!
Originally published in the Spring 2010 edition of Quinn Quarterly.