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Terminated on Workers’ Compensation

Lynn Taylor

construction helmetAdding Insult to Injury

The bad news: you’ve been injured at work.  What’s worse: you’ve just been terminated.

One common question we receive from employees injured at work is whether you can be fired while on workers’ compensation.  The short answer is, unless you have an employment contract or are protected by FMLA, yes, you can be terminated on workers’ compensation.  In Illinois, most employees are at-will, meaning you can be terminated at any time for any reason, so long as it is not prohibited by law.  While an employer can’t fire an employee in retaliation for filing a workers’ comp claim, an employee doesn’t have a wrongful termination claim simply because they were terminated while on workers’ compensation.

How does termination affect the status your workers’ compensation claim?  Barring very few exceptions, your right to benefits remains the same.  This is true regardless of whether you’re terminated through no fault of your own, or for misconduct or even willful violation of company rules.  You are still entitled to workers’ comp weekly wages, at 2/3 of your average weekly wage, as long as you’re off work or on restrictions your employer can’t accommodate.  Your employer is also responsible for payment of 100% of your medical benefits until you’re released from your doctor’s care.

The reason the law operates in this manner is because workers’ comp is designed to help employees injured at work recover from their injuries with the assistance of their employer.  Your employer is responsible for paying the weekly wages and your medical bills because you were injured at work, not based on your status as an employee throughout the duration of your claim.  Just think: if employers were permitted to stop paying benefits as soon as an injured employee is no longer with the company, it would give less scrupulous employers motivation to find reasons to terminate injured workers to escape financial liability.  So while the law doesn’t necessarily prevent your employer from terminating you, it does protect your benefits in the event it occurs.

What happens if you voluntarily resign, accept other employment, or simply quit showing up for work?  If your employer is paying your weekly wages while you’re off work, or accommodating your light duty restrictions, your employer’s obligation to pay weekly benefits ends.  However, under any of these scenarios, your employer is still obligated to pay your medical benefits until you are released from your doctor’s care.

So what should you do if you’ve been injured at work and are concerned about being fired or are thinking about quitting your job?  Contact Woodruff Johnson & Evans today to discuss what we can do to ensure your benefits are protected.

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