Clients who consult with us frequently worry that they will be fired or lose their job if they pursue a Workers’ Compensation case against their employer. Therefore, sometimes despite enduring the hardship of not being paid their lost wages nor getting the necessary medical care and treatment for an injury, the injured worker still refuses to assert his rights by filing an Illinois Workers’ Compensation claim. I always reassure clients that the law strictly prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who file a Workers’ Compensation claim. However, I am always quick to also add that a jury may ultimately rule that the termination was for some reason other than the employee’s filing of a Workers’ Compensation claim.
At least one recent Illinois jury has sent a clear message that injured workers should not be retaliated against, and the Illinois Appellate Court has agreed. In Holland v. Schwan’s Home Service (21 ILWCLB 89 (Ill. App. Ct., 3rd 2013)) a jury awarded the injured worker 4.2 million dollars in compensatory and punitive damages where the employer (1) intentionally worked the employee beyond his doctor’s medical restrictions and (2) terminated the worker while engaged in physical therapy to allow an eventual full duty return to work. Of the 4.2 million dollar award, 3.6 million served as punitive damages. The Appellate Court found that 3.6 million dollars was not excessive and constituted roughly only 1% of the employer’s net worth.
While retaliatory discharge claims are sometimes difficult to prove, they can be won. When proven, Illinois juries are prepared to not only compensate the discharged employee, but also punish the offending employer.