The Illinois Supreme Court recently released an opinion – Interstate Scaffolding v. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission – that provides some much needed protection to Illinois workers. Jeff Urban was an Interstate union carpenter. On July 2, 2003 he suffered a work-related injury to his head, neck and back. After he was injured, Urban underwent a significant amount of medical treatment that sometimes required him to remain off work. At other times, he was allowed to work “light duty”.
On May 25, 2005, Urban was working “light duty” at Interstate’s Hazel Crest facility. At some point that day he went to the office and advised payroll that that there was an error in his check. Additionally, he advised that a recent check had actually overpaid him. The information regarding the overpayment was relayed to the Jan Coffey, the assistant to the company president. Coffey became irate when she learned the news about the overpayment. A couple of weeks earlier Urban had drawn some religious symbols in a company storage room. Coffey felt that Urban, as a professed religious man, should not have accepted the overpayment. She confronted Urban and accused him of being a “hypocrite”. Not surprisingly, Urban was angered by the confrontation and there was a brief heated argument. The local police were called but no arrests made.
After the police left, Coffey phoned Ron Fowler, the company president and advised him of what had occurred. Fowler then contacted Urban’s supervisor and instructed him to fire Urban. Urban was fired that day. After the termination, the company refused to pay Urban temporary total disability [TTD] benefits to Urban. Under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, TTD [a percentage of the worker’s average weekly wage] is to be paid until a worker’s condition has stabilized. As of May 25, 2005, Urban’s condition had not stabilized.
Urban then filed his a Workers’ Compensation case with the Illinois Industrial Commission. On June 25, 2005, the arbitrator found that Urban was not entitled to TTD after his termination. Urban appealed and the Commission modified the arbitrator’s ruling, extending TTD to June 28, 2005, the date of the hearing. Interstate appealed that decision to the Circuit Court, who confirmed the Commission decision. Interstate then took the case to the Appellate Court who ruled that Urban was not entitled to TTD. Urban then took the case to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court decision is brief and well-written. The Court noted that when a worker is seeking TTD, the critical inquiry is whether the condition had stablized. Urban’s condition on the date of discharge HAD NOT stabilized. Consequently the employer’s duty to pay TTD did not stop because Urban had been fired for cause. The Court established an important principle -when an employee entitled to TTD is terminated for conduct unrelated to the injury, the employer remains obligated to pay TTD until the employee’s condition is stabilized.