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<i>Dear Workforce</i> What Can We Do When an Employee Has Exhausted the Leave-of-Absence Time Allowed by Our Workers' Comp Policy?

August 29, 2011
Dear Sick About This:
As is the case in other states, Illinois has a workers' compensation system to compensate employees for accidental injuries occurring in the workplace. All employers subject to the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act must either carry workers' compensation insurance or demonstrate that they are self-insured and have the financial resources to cover any reasonably anticipated claims. Thus, in such a world, your company's injured workers are covered under the workers' compensation system and paid accordingly for lost wages and any related medical.
Separately, your company has a leave-of-absence policy that has changed over time. It appears that your company offered employees salary continuation for a time period (e.g., two years) in lieu of paying them statutory workers' compensation indemnity benefits. Further, policy language may also be similar to many leave policies that state that after an employee has been out of work for two years, he or she may be terminated from employment. However, please note that neither of these scenarios relinquishes a company/employer's responsibility to the employee under workers' compensation. Therefore, disability and related medical benefits would still continue to be paid per the workers' compensation act until resolution, such as if the employee returns to work or the claim is settled.
You should look to see if your company has written the new Leave of Absence policy language to cover all employees; then the new may supersede the old policy for how much the employee is paid going forward (e.g., full salary vs. his/her appropriate workers' compensation rate). This, of course, is barring any other circumstances under which the described employee may be covered (i.e., a result of collective bargaining). Such negotiated contractual language may firmly define how an individual's personal time may be used.
Lastly, moving forward, you may wish to consider a leave-policy change to not allow any personal time to be used by individuals receiving workers' compensation. If the injured worker is taking home the same/similar amount of money while out of work, then it is conceivable that there is no leverage or incentive for him or her to quickly return to work.
SOURCE: Jannell Knox, consultant, Towers Watson & Co., Atlanta
LEARN MORE: Workers' compensation can be a minefield for companies, even when employees are on break.
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The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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