Can they fire me for this? That is a question I get asked fairly often when interviewing new clients who are considering filing a workers’ compensation case. In times like these, people have every right to be concerned. It’s illegal for an employer to fire an employee in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation case. Very few employers would be foolish enough to risk being sued for retaliatory discharge by overtly firing someone for no reason other than that the employee exercised his or her right to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.
However, I also tell anyone who asks me that question: watch your back. Pay special attention to following every workplace rule. Don’t give an employer an excuse to terminate your employment on some violation that the employer can claim is unrelated to the injury. I’ve seen this happen a number of times. A particular rule that was previously ignored, conduct that had previously been acquiesced, or an event that seemed like no big deal at the time, can suddenly be the subject of a meeting with the boss after word has gotten around about a workers’ compensation claim.
With this backdrop in mind, I read with interest the recent decision in the case of Illinois Scaffolding v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. The case raised the question of whether an injured worker, fired for reasons unrelated to the injury, can continue to receive benefits. In short, the Illinois Supreme Court answered yes. An injured worker can continue to receive benefits for as long as he remains disabled from the work-related injury, whether or not he is still employed by the same employer.
“For the reasons stated above, we hold that an employer’s obligation to pay TTD benefits to an injured employee does not cease because the employee had been discharged—whether or not the discharge was for “cause.” When an injured employee has been discharged by his employer, the determinative inquiry for deciding entitlement to TTD benefits remains, as always, whether the claimant’s condition has stabilized. If the injured employee is able to show that he continues to be temporarily totally disabled as a result of his work-related injury, the employee is entitled to TTD benefits.”
The case is an important decision and a logical one for all the reasons stated. It is also important in the context of the question I am repeatedly asked: Can they fire me? They still can’t fire you in overt retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation case. They still can fire you for “cause” unrelated to the injury. However, because of the precedent set in the above-cited case, employers have less incentive to terminate injured workers for seemingly unrelated reasons. Therefore, we can hope to see less of these wrongful terminations in the future. This well-reasoned approach adopted by our state’s highest court protects the injured worker from this type of subtle retaliation. I applaud the ruling.
For more information about this subject or the author, Chicago injury attorney Steven A. Sigmond, call (312) 258-8188 or return to our website at www.siglaw.com.