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One of the benefits an injured worker is entitled to under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act is lost wages. The Act states that if you are incapacitated from working, as a result of a work-related injury, you are entitled to 66-2/3% of your lost wages. These lost wages are called temporary total disability benefits. If you can show that your doctor has taken you off work or has placed you on light-duty restrictions in which your employer cannot accommodate, you will be entitled to these benefits.

An interesting situation arises when a person is working a "seasonal job" but continues to be incapacitated from working once the seasonal job is done. For example, take a school bus monitor who only works during the school year. While breaking up a fight on the bus, she gets pushed to the ground and breaks her leg. As a result of this accident, her doctor takes her off work. What happens if the school bus monitor is still treating and restricted from work once the school year is over? Is she entitled to temporary total disability benefits during the summer? Too many times have I seen insurance companies terminate an individual's temporary total disability benefits once the "seasonal job" comes to an end. This is NOT right.

The Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission has determined, on numerous occasions, that an individual is still entitled to temporary total disability benefits during a period of time they may otherwise not be working due to the nature of the employment. Using our example of the school bus monitor, the Commission determined that a school bus monitor was entitled to ongoing temporary total disability benefits during the summer months since this individual was still treating from the work injury and was restricted from work activities. The entitlement to ongoing benefits would also apply to school teachers, snow plow drivers, or any other employee that is not required to work year round.

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Adding 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.

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When we think about workplace injuries, many of us envision construction sites or other places that seem to have inherent dangers. However, according to a recent article in U.S. News & World Report, healthcare workers—particularly nursing staff—are at serious risk of violent injuries caused by psychiatrically unstable patients. Indeed, the article indicates that, between 2012 and 2014, "injuries caused by patients nearly doubled among nurses and nurse assistants." And based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), "in 2013 psychiatric aides experienced work-related violent injuries that resulted in days away from work at a rate 10 times higher than the next group—nursing assistants."

In other words, more healthcare workers than ever are filing workers' compensation claims as a result of injuries caused by patients. Are these injuries preventable?

Workers' Compensation Claims in the Healthcare Industry Should Not Be Normalized

The article suggests, one of the reasons that healthcare workers miss so many days away from work due to patient outbursts, is that "injury to healthcare providers once was culturally accepted as part of the job." However, injuries to nurses and nursing aides caused by violent patients should not be occurrences that we normalize. About 75 percent of all injuries as a result of workplace violence happen in the healthcare and social services fields, which is a total of around 26,000 worker injuries. In light of this finding, we need to ask ourselves whether there is more we can do to prevent these injuries from taking place.

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