Illinois worker still eligible for workers’ compensation after fired for theft
Disabling accidents are tragically common among warehouse workers in Illinois. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 5 percent of full-time warehouse employees suffer a serious workplace injury every year. Neck injuries, back injuries, head injuries and other traumas can all have lasting consequences. In a landmark case, the Illinois Appellate Court has recently ruled that workers can receive benefits for injuries of this sort even if they are later terminated for causes unrelated to the accident.
Injury followed by unrelated termination
Walter Matuszczak was employed by an Illinois Wal-Mart as a night stocker until March 2010, when he suffered injuries to his neck, back and arm after several heavy boxes of cleaning products fell on him during his shift. After seeking emergency medical care and taking several days off, he came back to work and carried out lighter duties which no longer involved lifting and moving heavy objects. In the course of his new duties, he stole several packs of cigarettes from his employer. When Wal-Mart discovered this theft in June 2011, Matuszczak was terminated. His employer also cut off his workers’ compensation payments and refused to subsidize the costs of his disability or his ongoing medical care.
Loss of workers’ compensation after firing
Matuszczak no longer had a job at Wal-Mart, but he was still living with the consequences of his earlier work-related accident. The aftereffects of his injury prevented him from finding suitable employment elsewhere. His doctors recommended orthopedic treatment and surgery for better flexibility and ongoing pain management. He could not pursue this course of treatment because Wal-Mart had suspended his workers’ compensation. Matuszczak appealed his case to his county’s Circuit Court. When this appeal proved unsuccessful, he pursued his case even further to the Illinois Appellate Court.
A favorable ruling for Matuszczak
In October 2014, the Appellate Court of Illinois stated that Matuszczak was entitled to all of the following:
- More than $14,200 in unpaid medical costs related to the accident
- Prospective expenses for the recommended orthopedic surgery
- Temporary total disability payments while unable to return to work
The court decided that Matuszczak’s theft and subsequent termination did not affect his right to benefits. This ruling sets an important precedent for cases in which an injured worker needs additional medical care after losing a job.