This is a bit of a tricky question in that there is both a “yes” and “no” answer to it. While you can be fired while you are out on workers’ compensation, you cannot be fired specifically for having a claim open.
In talking to injured workers that do not file claims, one of the leading reasons they do not file is because they are worried about losing their jobs if they place a claim. Rather than file for workers’ compensation, they will go through their own insurance companies, take vacation and/or sick days while they recover, and possibly even file for short-term disability.
What most people do not realize, however, is that today, many doctors will report a work-related injury and bill your employer’s workers’ compensation provider. In some cases, if the doctor deems the injury to be work-related, you may even be refused care because they do not accept workers’ compensation cases, which leaves you with quite the dilemma if you were trying to avoid filing a workers’ compensation claim.
Now, as mentioned above, your employer CANNOT fire you merely for opening a claim, but you can be terminated or laid off for other causes, which is what we would like to dive into next.
Today, most states are considered “at-will” employment states, which means the employer needs no reason at all to terminate your employment. But, let’s be honest, if your termination is conveniently timed around a workers’ compensation claim, it may raise a few eyebrows. Your boss may give you another reason, but it may not make sense or be difficult for him or her to prove. But again, because the state is an “at-will” employment state, proving any of this could be quite difficult.
The rules change significantly if you are a contracted employee. In cases such as this, termination reasons are generally made clear in the contract. In these types of situations, progressive disciplinary measures are also usually in place, barring specific exceptions. For instance, for being late for work, progressive steps are a warning, a write-up, a one-week suspension, followed by termination, in essence giving you multiple opportunities within a specified period to be late before being terminated.
That would more than likely be the case for low-level violations, with exceptions being for more severe cases. For instance, a racial slur or physical confrontation with a supervisor or fellow employee could be grounds for immediate termination.
Because it is illegal to fire someone for making a workers’ compensation claim, it is a rare case when an employer will slip up and say that is the case. However, if you suspect this is why you are being fired, you will need to prove your case.
Seeing Medical Improvement
Employers obviously need their workers to be able to do their jobs, but there will some leeway for workers during recovery periods from a claim. If you are showing steady improvement and the doctor believes you will be able to fully recover and assume your regular duties, you cannot be terminated. The industry term here is maximum medical improvement (MMI). When you reach MMI, whether you can or cannot perform your duties should dictate if you still have your job or not.
A challenging situation can arise when you reach MMI but are not capable of doing your old job. This would need to be discussed with your employer, as there may be other jobs that you can do within the same company. There could also be a situation where you can do the job, but you may need to have certain exceptions in place, such as more breaks or even a specially padded floor for comfort due to the injury. If these accommodations are reasonable, the employer has the legal duty to make them to allow you to keep your job. This is not an option but rather outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Cannot Return to Normal Work
If you have reached your MMI and there are no reasonable accommodations, your employer can terminate you at this point. In some cases, an alternative position may be offered, but this is not required.
Do I Need a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer?
If you have been terminated while having an open workers’ compensation claim, you may want to discuss your case with a workers’ compensation attorney. Gather the evidence related to your case, then give us a call at 855-633-0888 . The initial consultation is free of charge and you are under no obligation to use our services for inquiring. If you would like to learn more about our legal services before calling us, you can click here for information.
Taryn J. White is a legal research specialist and Injury law news reporter. Her current accomplishments include helping those facing any injuries from vehicle accidents, workplace accidents, and medical malpractice.