In September 2011, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC) decided McCarthy v. The city of Warrenville, a case dealing with the issue of whether an injury that resulted from the stress of losing a job was compensable under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. The WCC’s decision, in this case, has wider implications for injured workers in Illinois.
The plaintiff was a police commissioner in Warrenville, Illinois. The plaintiff attended a meeting at which she was told that the department was laying her off. The plaintiff claimed that she had no notice that her job was in jeopardy and was completely taken aback.
After the meeting, the plaintiff reported that she was nauseated and went to the restroom. While in the restroom, the plaintiff fainted, injuring her head and knee. She filed a claim for workers’ compensation, which a workers’ compensation arbitrator denied. The plaintiff appealed.
The WCC upheld the arbitrator’s decision to deny benefits. One of the basic requirements for recovering benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act is that the worker’s injury must have occurred “in the course and scope” of his or her employment. In this case, the WCC said that it was clear that the plaintiff’s job duties were over when she was injured, as she had been laid off prior to the injury.
The WCC further reasoned that even if the plaintiff were still on the job, the injury did not come from a risk associated with her job. Rather, the injury was idiopathic — resulting from her reaction to the news of losing her job. The WCC said that the plaintiff also failed to show that there was anything defective about the restroom that contributed to the likelihood of injury or worsened the effects of the injury.
Finally, the WCC said that the stress of learning of a layoff was not extraordinary and that all workers experience stress from being fired, laid-off or disciplined on occasion, so the plaintiff could not recover benefits.
The WCC’s decision could impact Illinois workers who are injured in the future. The decision means that other workers who sustain injuries after learning of a job loss could have a more difficult time getting benefits. Also, workers who have intense reactions to stress and are injured as a result could find that they have trouble obtaining benefits for their injuries.