How Does Workers’ Compensation Overlap with the ADA?


Illinois workers’ compensation laws provide disability benefits to severely injured workers, and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) offers legal protections to those who are substantially impaired. These laws don’t typically intersect, but if they do, determining the outcome could become problematic.

Role of Workers’ Compensation

Workers’ compensation is designed to help individuals who have been injured at work, regardless of whether that injury results in long-term or permanent disability. That said, there are certain benefits that can be granted to workers who have been disabled on the job, such as a wage differential or permanent disability benefits.

Under Illinois’s workers’ compensation laws, the possibilities available to disabled workers include:

  • Temporary partial disability (TPD)
  • Temporary total disability (TTD)
  • Permanent partial disability (PPD)
  • Permanent total disability (PTD)

The typical benefits involve compensation for reduced earning ability. For instance, TPD might mean working in a light-duty capacity with lower earnings, in which case you’d get 2/3 of the difference in pay as TPD benefits.

Role of the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) offers protections to individuals with disabilities, regardless of whether those disabilities resulted from work-related accidents or injuries. Title I of the ADA prevents employers from discriminating against disabled persons, such as by denying them work for being disabled.

Under the ADA, if an employer were to fire you over becoming disabled at work, it would constitute a violation of your rights, and you might be able to sue for damages.

It’s worth noting that the ADA defines “disability” as a condition that “substantially limits one or more major life activities” or being regarded as having such a condition.

Where the ADA and Workers’ Compensation Clash

There are circumstances under which the ADA and workers’ compensation laws may clash. The best way to illustrate this is with an example.

Suppose a dock worker has been permanently disabled in a work-related accident. He’s no longer able to perform the same job that he was doing before, in which case there are three possibilities:

  1. He could perform a light-duty job, potentially earning less.
  2. He could get a job at a different company.
  3. He could stop working altogether.

In the first two cases, he’d be entitled to permanent partial disability benefits, which may take the form of a wage differential, scheduled injury (in which a number of weeks of benefits are granted based on the injury), disfigurement, or percentage of loss (for injuries that aren’t already classified). In the last case, TTD would be appropriate.

His employer might offer him a light-duty position, but if they do not, there is a chance they may violate the ADA if they ask him not to return to work, even if they still pay him benefits. There are a number of factors that may affect whether a lawsuit is warranted, such as whether they’re even able to give him a light-duty position, or if doing so would cause them undue hardship.

Finding a Positive Outcome

Under the ADA, employers are often obligated to continue providing work for their disabled employees, while workers’ compensation simply requires payment for lost income and medical expenses. Most injured employees won’t find themselves in a situation where both laws may apply, but for those who do, experienced legal representation (such as our attorneys at Hart David Carson LLP) is often necessary.

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