Stealing From Employer Still Not a Bar to TTD in Illinois

As we previously covered in greater detail here, Mr. Matuszczak, the petitioner, was fired for the repeated theft of cigarettes.  He testified that he knew that stealing was a crime and could lead to him being fired.  The petitioner had previously been prescribed light-duty restrictions that were being accommodated by his employer and he also testified that if he had not stolen cigarettes he might have still been working for his employer in light-duty capacity.  The employer denied the petitioner TTD benefits on the basis that his decision to steal amounted to a voluntary decision not work.  The case was litigated through Arbitration, Commission Review, and the Dupage County Circuit Court, with the Respondent prevailing at the Commission and the Petitioner prevailed at Arbitration and in Circuit Court.

In Matuszczak v. Illinois Workers’ Comp. Comm’n, 2014 IL App (2d) 130532WC (Ill. App. Ct. 2d Dist. Sept. 30, 2014), the Appellate Court ruled in favor of the petitioner.  The Court reiterated the principle from Interstate Scaffolding that the crucial question when analyzing a potential entitlement to TTD benefits is whether the petitioner’s condition has stabilized at a point of maximum medical improvement.  Id. referencing Interstate Scaffolding, Inc. v. Illinois Workers’ Comp. Comm’n, 236 Ill. 2d 132, 141, 923 N.E.2d 266, 271 (2010).  The Court elaborated that TTD may be terminated for three reasons: If the employee (1) refuses to submit to medical, surgical, or hospital treatment essential to his recovery; (2) fails to give good faith efforts to rehabilitate; or (3) refuses to work in a position offered by the employer that accommodates the petitioner’s restrictions.

The Appellate Court also ruled that, not only does Interstate Scaffolding forbid that automatic termination of TTD when an employee has been fired, the employer cannot deny TTD even when a petitioner is discharged for cause as a result of the employee’s volitional actions.  Furthermore, even if the petitioner is aware that their conduct will result in their termination, TTD benefits still cannot be denied and added that an analysis of why a petitioner was fired is an issue that is “foreign to workers’ compensation cases” and that is “completely separate from issues related to an injured employee’s entitlement to TTD.  Id. at 25, partially quoting Interstate Scaffolding.

Based on the Court’s reasoning, no matter what an employee does to cause his own termination, even outrageous acts such assault or sexual harassment, he can still obtain TTD benefits.  Arguably, even if a petitioner explicitly stated that they wanted to be fired in order to obtain TTD benefits rather than working, the petitioner could still be entitled to TTD, given that the Appellate Court found that examining the reasons for a petitioner’s termination is disconnected from an analysis of whether TTD is warranted.

Thanks to attorney Michael Bantz for tracking this important legal issue.

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