If you were injured at work, you may be worried about filing a workers’ compensation claim. After all, employers usually aren’t thrilled to learn about new claims, which may raise their insurance rates. The good news is that all states prohibit employers from discriminating against employees because they were injured at work or because they filed a workers’ compensation claim.
What Are My Rights?
Most employees in the U.S. work at will. If you’re an at-will employee, your employer can fire you at any time, for any reason—unless the reason is illegal. In all states, it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee because that employee has filed a workers’ compensation claim. Without this protection, employees would be too afraid to exercise their rights, and employers would have no incentive to maintain a safe working environment.
Filing a workers’ compensation claim does not give you unlimited job security, however. If your employer has legitimate reasons to fire you, which have nothing to do with your workers’ comp claim, it can legally terminate your employment. For example, if your employer decides to eliminate an entire department because of financial difficulties, it can probably let you go as part of that elimination.
How Can I Tell If I Was Fired Because of My Workers’ Comp Claim?
In some cases, it can be difficult to tell whether your employer is in fact discriminating against you because of your workers’ compensation claim. However, there are a few signs you can look out for. The first is the timing of the termination. Were you fired within a few days or weeks of filing your claim? The closer in time that your termination is to the filing of your claim, the more likely it is retaliatory. You should also be attentive to negative comments from your supervisor or other managers. If management seems upset that you filed a claim, or has pressured you to forgo your rights, your termination may be retaliatory.
Finally, you should also consider the stated reason for your termination. Were you given a clear reason that relates to your performance, the company’s financial health, or some other legitimate factor? If you’re a top performer with no history of discipline, and the company is doing fine, your workers’ comp claim may be the real reason for your termination.
What Can I Do If I Was Fired Because of My Workers’ Comp Claim?
If your firing was in retaliation for filing a workers’ comp claim, you will be eligible for additional compensation. In most states, your retaliation claim will be brought through the workers’ comp system. You can typically ask to be reinstated to your job and receive payment for lost wages. In some states, you can also collect a penalty. For example, in California, you can receive an additional 50% of your workers’ compensation benefits, up to $10,000, if your employer fires you or discriminates against you because of your workers’ comp claim.
In other states, you may be able to file a separate lawsuit in court. For example, in Pennsylvania, you can file a wrongful termination lawsuit in court to recover damages for your lost wages, out-of-pocket expenses (such as the cost of looking for a new job), and emotional distress caused by the illegal firing.
Am I Protected Under Other Laws?
If you were fired after suffering a work injury, you may have rights under other laws as well. For example, certain federal and state employment laws require employers to provide time off or reasonable accommodations to workers with serious health conditions or disabilities. Your firing may have been illegal under these laws as well. If you believe you were wrongfully terminated, consult with an experienced workers’ compensation or employment lawyer in your area.