The commission in Stegan v. Reladyne, LLC, determined that the respondent employer was “within its rights to terminate temporary total disability (TTD) benefits effective the day petitioner failed to present to Northern Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity Restore to begin participation in the Transitional Work Program.” This case represents a departure from past precedent on temporary transitional employment (TTE) and carves out parameters under which TTD can be terminated.

The petitioner suffered a left shoulder injury that prevented him from performing his job as a forklift operator. The respondent engaged Transitional Work Solutions to enroll the petitioner in a TTE program that conformed to his light duty restrictions, and matched the petitioner with Northern Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity Restore. The petitioner received a letter documenting his match, was informed he would remain an employee of the respondent, would remain bound by the respondent’s human resources and attendance policies, and would receive his regular salary. Nevertheless, the petitioner chose not to participate in the program and claimed entitlement to TTD benefits pursuant to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act and controlling case law.

Past precedent denied Illinois employers the ability to terminate temporary total disability benefits where TTE was offered and refused. In Alvarez v. Foodliner, Inc., there was question of whether the TTE requirements comported with his light-duty restrictions and whether travel to and from work would exceed a burdensome two hours. In Saineghi v. Demar Logistics, the petitioner’s TTE placement was an unpaid volunteer position. In Kilduff v. TriCountry Coal and Lee v. Fluid Mgmt., it was determined that “it is the obligation of the respondent during the period of temporary total disability to provide light-duty work for petitioner within its own company where the petitioner is under the control and supervision of the employer rather than an individual other than its employer.”

In Stegan, however, the commission found that “absent an argument that [the place of TTE] is objectively too far from his residence to make the endeavor cost-effective or that the work asked of him there is outside the prescribed work restrictions, the commission is not particularly sympathetic to petitioner’s position.” The commission determined that nothing in previous cases involving TTD hold or suggest that an injured employee remains entitled to TTD benefits if work within the prescribed restrictions can be found, regardless of with whom, and is not otherwise shown to be unreasonable. Here, the petitioner received a letter explicitly indicating that he would remain the respondent’s employee. The commission noted the purpose of the act is “to compensate a claimant for economic disabilities that diminish his value in the labor market” (Chlada v. Ill. Workers’ Comp. Comm’n). It was found that the petitioner was diminishing his own value in the labor market by accepting two-thirds of what he would earn if he participated in the TTE program, and from this, the commission concluded that he would rather trade earning his usual wage for the opportunity not to work and receive two-thirds of a usual wage.

Illinois employers can utilize the decision in Stegan to terminate TTD where temporary transitional employment is offered under these parameters and refused. Goldberg Segalla notes the case is currently on appeal and further direction is expected from the Illinois Appellate Court.