In a recent case, the First District of the Appellate Court of Illinois found an employee’s retirement barred him from receiving workers’ compensation temporary total disability benefits. Sharwarko v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, et al, 2015 IL App (1st) 131733WC. In this case, the employee had surgery due to a work injury. While he was under a doctor’s care, his employer approached him about taking voluntary retirement. He was of an age to retire and other employees were offered the opportunity to also retire early. Unfortunately, this employee’s surgery did not have a good result and the employee ended up having another surgery and being under a doctor’s care due to the work injury for another three years.
In Sharwarko, the appellate court decided that the employee forfeited his rights to temporary total disability benefits since he had voluntarily retired. This does not mean that he forfeited all of his rights under the workers’ compensation act, but he did lose temporary total disability and it did affect his ultimate award in the end. The Commission decided that he was not permanently totally disabled but rather permanently partially disabled even though he had a vocational opinion stating he was not able to return to work due to his injury. Noteworthy was the fact that the employee had not actively sought employment elsewhere.
It is concerning that employers may offer an injured worker who is retirement age early retirement so that the employer can reduce its liability under the workers’ compensation act. Many people choose to work past an age at which they could retire. That right to choose whether to keep working should not be limited because of a work injury. Injured workers need to be aware that they may be giving up substantial legal rights if they voluntarily retire while treating for a work injury.