Filing a workers’ compensation claim is your right as an employee if you suffer a work-related illness or injury. You should be able to file a claim without fear of retaliation. Legally, an employer cannot fire you solely because you filed a claim. However, you can lose your job while on workers’ compensation if your employer can demonstrate reasons for doing so unrelated to your claim.
Explaining the Workers’ Compensation System
Workplace injuries are common even in industries that are not inherently dangerous. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), private industry employers reported 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2018. In the same year, 5,250 people died from workplace injuries or illnesses.
Most people who suffer injuries on the job qualify for workers’ compensation, helping them recover lost wages to pay for costs such as emergency care and medical bills.
According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), state and federal workers’ compensation laws covered approximately 135.6 million employees in 2015.
Unfortunately, many employees have a reluctance to file a workers’ compensation claim for fear of retaliation by their employer, up to and including termination. They might instead file a claim with their insurance company, and if they need to take time off work, exhaust their sick leave or short-term disability benefits.
However, most doctors’ offices ask if an injury occurred at the workplace as part of the intake process. If they determine it was work-related, they might bill your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance provider or, if the practice does not take workers’ compensation claims, they might refuse to treat you.
At-Will and Contract Employees
Most employees are employed “at-will,” meaning you have a right to leave your post whenever you please for any reason. It also means your employer can terminate you for any reason—or without giving a reason. If your employer decides to fire you or lay you off while you have an open workers’ compensation claim, they could state the reason as:
- Poor job performance
- Company financial trouble
- Company restructuring
- Elimination of your job position
Your workers’ compensation claim might prompt your employer to let you go, but they can use one of the above reasons to justify their decision and avoid legal trouble. Contract employees have different rights. Employers still cannot use a workers’ compensation claim as a reason to fire you, and the contract should list reasons your employer could terminate your contract. Unfortunately, many employment contracts include a clause stating an employer could terminate you if you cannot work for an extended period. This provision means they could legally let you go based on a long-term workers’ compensation claim.
Your physician will most likely update what tasks they determine you can and cannot do throughout your recovery. When you are ready to return to work, you might do so with certain restrictions. These restrictions mean you might not be able to do things in the same way you did before your injury or limit your ability to perform specific tasks at all.
Employers must provide reasonable accommodation to help you do your job. For instance, if you injured your wrist, they might supply an ergonomic keyboard to help you type. If you lost your hearing, they might need to install a special device to help you take phone calls.
However, it is legal for an employer to fire you if you cannot perform your job’s essential functions, even with reasonable accommodation. Keep in mind it is unreasonable to expect an employer to keep you onboard if you cannot do the job it hired you to do. However, they must do their part to help you if possible.
Retaining Workers’ Compensation Benefits
If you lose your job while on workers’ compensation, the good news is that you do not lose your benefits if terminated while on leave. You will continue to receive your benefits until your doctor approves you to return to work. If your employer lets you go, whether before or after returning to work, it should provide the same severance package as they would to any other laid-off employee.
Retaliatory termination occurs when an employer fires a staff member for filing a workers’ compensation claim or reporting a work-related illness or injury. Most states have laws barring this practice, and because of its illegality, companies will give other reasons for terminating you. You might find it exceedingly difficult to prove an employer fired you unjustly. However, it is possible. If you believe your employer unfairly terminated you, you might want to contact a lawyer for assistance.
Hire a Lawyer for Support
You can lose your job while on workers’ compensation. However, if you feel your termination was unjust, you might have a right to pursue a workers’ compensation lawsuit to seek damages from your former employer in civil court. Likewise, if you feel your employer has discriminated against you based on your work-related injuries or illness, you might have grounds for a lawsuit.
You could contact the team at Ben Crump Law, PLLC, for support. Our legal team does not shy away from tough cases and will work to pursue justice and compensation on your behalf. Call us at (800) 603-4224 to speak with a staff member about your situation and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.