Workers' compensation could be considered a trade-off. When an employee is injured on the job, he or she gets workers' compensation insurance benefits provided by law in exchange for not filing suit against the employer. But when an employee is fired simply because of an injury, the law permits that employee to sue for damages. An Illinois jury recently sent a serious message to one employer, exemplifying the seriousness and consequences of disregarding the rights of employees.
A Marion resident was recently awarded $3.6 million in punitive damages from his former employer after a six-day jury trial in Benton. The man suffered a back injury on the job, for which he sought medical care in January 2009. Doctors directed the man to take time off from work for physical rehabilitation, which he did under the Family Medical Leave Act. Three weeks later, doctors cleared the man to return to work. When he reported to duty, he was fired.
The jury heard evidence that the employer, during the three weeks the man was out of work for medical reasons, crafted a plan to fire him. E-mails and other documentation supported the wrongful conduct on the part of the employer. The employee's lawyer observed that he was fired simply for seeking the medical care to which he was entitled. Such wrongful conduct of the part of employers can have a chilling effect on injured workers, who should not have to worry about losing their jobs while undergoing medical treatment.
Workers' compensation is a legal right guaranteed to all covered employees. Violations of those rights are serious matters. In this difficult economy, people are already fearful of losing their jobs, and many are confused about how to enforce their rights without risk. An Illinois attorney, aware of workers' compensation law as it is applied in our state, may offer some support and understanding to people seeking to ensure their entitlement to work-related benefits.
Source: Benton Evening News, "Marion man wins $3.6M workers compensation lawsuit," Matt Hawkins, July 27, 2011.