By Anna M. Campbell
Matuszczak v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission is another victory for employees being entitled to TTD benefits until they reach maximum medical improvement, regardless of for-cause termination from employment. Matuszczak v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, 2014 IL App (2d) 130532WC (Ill. App. 2nd Dist. 2014). In this case, employee returned to work for his employer in a light-duty capacity following his work accident. Surgery was being recommended on claimant’s cervical spine. Claimant was then terminated from his employment for an incident unrelated to his work injury, stealing from his employer.
The Employer contended the Commission in this case was free to exercise its discretion to determine that employee’s decision to steal from the employer when he admittedly knew such action could result in his termination was the equivalent of refusing work within his physical restrictions and a valid basis for suspending or terminating TTD.
The court in its analysis pointed out it is a well-settled principle that when a claimant seeks TTD benefits, the dispositive inquiry is whether the claimant’s condition has stabilized, i.e., whether the claimant has reached Maximum Medical Improvement. TTD benefits may be suspended or terminated if the employee (1) refuses to submit to medical, surgical, or hospital treatment essential to his recovery; (2) fails to cooperate in good faith with rehabilitation efforts; or (3) refuses work falling within the physical restrictions prescribed by his doctor. However, an employer’s obligation to pay TTD benefits to an injured employee does not cease because the employee had been discharged – whether or not the discharge was for “cause”. Whether an employee has been discharged for a valid cause, or whether the discharge violates some public policy, are matters foreign to workers’ compensation cases. An injured employee’s entitlement to TTD benefits is a completely separate issue and may not be conditioned on the propriety of the discharge. Therefore, when an employee who is entitled to benefits under the Act is terminated for conduct unrelated to his injury, the employer’s TTD obligation continues “until the employee’s medical condition has stabilized.” An interpretation of the Act that would support a denial of TTD where an employee’s volitional conduct was the basis for termination is expressly rejected by the court.
Here, employee was entitled to continued TTD benefits following his termination for conduct unrelated to his injury as it was determined he was entitled to prospective medical expenses for surgery necessary to treat his work injury, he had not reached MMI, and his condition had not stabilized. This does not amount to a refusal of light-duty work by employee.