In these difficult and uncertain times this country is facing, many people have lost or are in fear of losing their jobs. Also, as the job market begins to open back up, many people are looking for new and better job opportunities. If you are one of those people and are also currently involved in a workers’ compensation claim, a change in your employment status could raise many questions or concerns.
Workers’ Compensation Benefits After Termination
If I am terminated from my employment, will I continue to receive workers’ compensation benefits? Must I continue to work for my current employer to continue to get workers’ compensation benefits? If I find a better job opportunity, will I still be entitled to a settlement?
In Illinois, if you sustain a work-related injury, you are entitled to three distinct benefits. Those benefits are: payment of medical expenses, lost wages, and permanent partial disability benefits. If the work injury requires medical treatment, the workers’ compensation insurance carrier is responsible for 100% of the medical expenses related to your work injury. You are not required to pay co-pays, deductibles, or any amount out of your pocket for medical expenses. If the injury requires you to miss work or if your employer is not able to accommodate your light-duty work restrictions, you are entitled to 2/3 of your gross pay. Lastly, once you are done treating and have been released by your treating doctor, you are entitled to a settlement or an award from an Arbitrator for any permanent disability caused by the work injury.
Generally speaking, your entitlement to these benefits is not impacted if you are terminated from your employment or if you decide to seek employment with a different employer. However, as is most often the case with legal rules, there are some exceptions.
If you are terminated from your employment or seek employment elsewhere during the pendency of your workers’ compensation claim, the medical expenses you incur for your work-related injury will still be covered by the insurance company. Additionally, you will still be entitled to a settlement or an award by an Arbitrator even if you are no longer working for the same employer at the time you are released by your doctor.
However, the only benefit that could potentially be impacted is your entitlement to lost wages. If you are terminated from your employment during the pendency of your claim, you will still be entitled to lost wages provided that your doctor has you off work or on light-duty work restrictions. As such, it is very important to continue getting work status notes from your doctor even if you have been terminated. However, if you voluntarily resign or simply don’t show up to work, you may no longer be entitled to lost wages.
Furthermore, if you start working at a new employer while your case is pending, any type of re-injury or aggravation could be deemed a new work accident. Then you may have two different insurance companies pointing the finger at each other which could result in the termination of your benefits. As such, it is imperative that you contact your attorney any time there is a change (or a potential change) in your employment status so that you are provided with the appropriate legal counsel for your unique situation.
On a related note, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act does not provide protection for one’s job and an employer may have reasonable grounds to terminate an employee during the pendency of their workers’ compensation claim. If you are terminated, you will not be awarded any additional benefits (other than those discussed above) under the Act. However, you may have a separate cause of action for Wrongful Termination or Retaliatory Discharge which would have to be pursued in civil court.