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Important information for United Airlines’ flight attendants considering the Voluntary Separation Leave (VSL)

In early 2021, United Continental Holdings (commonly known as UAL) began offering its flight attendants a Voluntary Separation Leave package with additional benefits to encourage voluntary separation from the company. As a term of the separation agreement, the flight attendant must waive his or her right to pursue legal claims and release United from liability related to his or her employment with and/or separation from United. Flight attendants are understandably concerned that this may affect their right to file a workers’ compensation claim and collect benefits for work related injuries.

This agreement does carve out some exceptions, including the right of the flight attendant to claim workers’ compensation benefits. This means that accepting the VSL does not forfeit your right in a workers’ compensation claim! Remember that you have three years from the date of the accident or two years from the last payment of compensation to file any Illinois workers’ compensation claim. You may file the workers’ compensation claim even after accepting the VSL.

However, flight attendants considering accepting this agreement should note that by signing the VLS agreement, the flight attendant is certifying that he or she had “no unreported on-the-job injuries”. By signing this agreement, the flight attendant who suffered unreported injuries or Occupational disease exposures in the past may jeopardize his or her right to obtain workers’ compensation benefits in the future. Accordingly, if a flight attendant has an unfiled workers’ compensation claim, it will typically be in his or her best interest to report the injury and file the claim with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (not just Sedgwick) prior to signing the VSL agreement to protect his or her right to workers’ compensation benefits. However, every case is different and this blog is not intended to provide legal advice, simply guidance and things to consider.

Flight attendants with current, open workers’ compensation claims should note that accepting this voluntary separation could also affect his or her claim. For example, electing to accept the voluntary separation may result in a decrease in the benefits received from the VSL or workers’ compensation benefits, as there may be an offset in benefits. Further, in some cases, accepting the voluntary separation may adversely affect the amount of permanency benefits (money owed for settlement for disability caused by the injury) which the flight attendant is entitled to receive at the conclusion of medical care or upon reaching maximum medical improvement. We highly recommend that any flight attendants with currently open workers’ compensation claims consult their workers’ compensation attorney before signing this agreement to ensure a complete understanding of the potential ramifications on their workers’ compensation claim.

Even if an injured flight attendant has already accepted and signed the VSL agreement with United, it is typically still in their best interest to consult with an attorney if he or she suffered an on the job injury prior to his or her separation. An attorney can help explain his or her rights under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act and which benefits he or she may still be entitled to.
The attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca have been representing flight attendants for over 50 years and we are very familiar with your collective bargaining agreement and the laws of Illinois. We have assisted many United flight attendants navigate accepting voluntary separation agreements while having open workers’ compensation claims.

If you are considering accepting the voluntary separation agreement offered by United and have questions regarding a work place injury or exposure, whether reported or not, please contact Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca so we can answer your questions. To set up a free consultation, please contact us at 800-444-1525.

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