February 02, 2011


February 02, 2011

Tower Automotive v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission No. 1-09-3161WC

Robert Nowak worked for Tower Automotive operating a forklift which he claimed caused accidental injuries.  His employer disputed the work‑relatedness of his condition and the matter proceeded to trial.  One of the issues presented at the hearing was how petitioner’s wages should be calculated.

With respect to his working hours prior to the alleged occurrence, Nowak testified that he worked mandatory overtime and that he would have been subject to discipline if he refused such overtime.  He admitted that the amount of overtime varied on a week to week basis.  The Arbitrator awarded compensation based on weekly wages which included overtime – the Arbitrator found overtime to be “mandatory and a normal element of his [the claimant’s] employment.”  With one Commissioner dissenting, the Commission affirmed the Arbitrator’s finding on this issue.

On appeal, Tower argued that the Commission’s finding on wages violated Section 10 of the Act which excludes overtime.  Citing the case of Airborne Express Inc. v. Workers’ Compensation Commission, the court stated:

Those hours which an employee works in excess of his regular weekly hours of employment are not considered overtime within the meaning of Section 10 and are to be included in an average‑weekly- wage calculation if the excess number of hours worked is consistent or if the employee is required to work the excess hours as a condition of his employment.

Since Nowak testified that working overtime was mandatory, and that he would be subject to discipline, including termination if he refused overtime, the court concluded that including overtime in working wages was not contrary to the law.

The court also addressed the subject of reimbursement for medical bills paid by a group carrier, holding that the plain language of Section 8(a) of the statute is satisfied by paying or reimbursing an injured employee the amount actually paid to a medical service provider.  Nowak claimed the total amounts billed, arguing that Tower was not entitled to a reduction in the amount billed due to discounts or ‘write‑offs’ permitted by the group carrier, which in this case was his wife’s and not the employer’s.  The court held that limiting an employer’s obligation to the amount actually paid a provider relieves an injured employee from the effects of an accidental injury and thus satisfies the purposes of the Act.

The Tower Automotive court has seemingly upended the prevailing wisdom in the workers’ compensation community that in order to be included in weekly wages, overtime must be both mandatory and “regular.”  This interpretation of the statute appears inconsistent with the plain language of Section 10 which states that actual earnings, “excluding overtime,” are the basis for computing wages under the Act.