Temporary Transitional Employment in Illinois
Transitional Temporary Employment plans or programs (TTE) are a tool used to address return to work issues. In these programs a third party vendor is typically used to locate temporary employment for the petitioner when their work restrictions cannot be accommodated by their employers. These programs come into play during two pivotal points in the handling of a case: (1) when the employee is first released to return to work with some restrictions but is still actively receiving treatment, and, (2) upon completing treatment, when the employee is released to return to work with permanent restrictions. In both instances, the employer cannot accommodate the employee’s restrictions.
There are two discrete separate issues here: the use of TTE before the petitioner is at MMI and still treating, and the use of a TTE program after the petitioner has reached MMI but given permanent restrictions.
It must be noted that the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act does not explicitly authorize TTE. The petitioner is not required to accept a TTE position, nor can TTD benefits be reduced or terminated upon the petitioner declining a TTE position. The case law for those who are temporarily disabled is clear. The petitioner is entitled to receive TTD where he is still receiving medical care, not working due to restrictions, and has not reached MMI.
Conversely, the Act also does not expressly forbid the use of TTE programs. TTE positions could potentially be used as part of a legitimate vocational rehabilitation program for those claimants that are placed on permanent work restrictions, with the key phrase being “legitimate vocational rehabilitation program.” Terminating maintenance benefits based upon the refusal of TTE position alone could lead to the imposition of penalties and attorneys’ fees.
The use of TTE programs is fairly new and developing part of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation law. The Act neither authorizes nor bar the use of TTE programs. However, the cases that have addressed it make one thing certain. Arbitrators have not treated TTE programs too kindly thus far. Perhaps, it is just a case of bad facts making bad law but the Commission has been clear that TTE is not part of the Act and the petitioner’s non-compliance with TTE cannot be used to terminate TTD benefits in the case of a petitioner who has not reached MMI. See Richard Lee, Petitioner, v. Fluid Management, Respondent,. 11 WC 48656 and 11 WC 48657.
With that said, it is possible to imagine a scenario where the TTE program is component of a comprehensive vocational rehabilitation program for those that have reached MMI with permanent restrictions as it provides the petitioner with transferable market skills, real job training, or could lead to a bona fide job offer. It is then no different than a vocational rehabilitation program in the sense that TTE can be another tool in limiting exposure. However, the devil is in the details. The Commission will not allow TTE programs to defeat permanent total disability exposure if it appears that the job offer is a sham. The Commission has found issue with TTE where the TTE program used sham companies (See Dan Perkins v. Turner Industries Group, 15 IWCC 0468) or the actions of the Respondent were so egregious, unreasonable, and vexatious, that the use of TTE program was of little consequence. See Eric Alvarez, Petitioner, v. Foodliner, Inc., Respondent, 15 IWCC 443.
- Bottom Line:
The Commission has made it clear that TTE programs can be used prudently as a component of a legitimate vocational rehabilitation program in an effort to help a claimant return to work.
Thanks to attorney Frank Johnston for the summary of the current status of this developing issue. Frank can be reached at the Champaign office of I&F.