If you have suffered an injury on the job, you could miss several weeks while you recover. At first blush, you are not too worried because you know your employer has workers’ compensation insurance. But as you continue to think about it, more questions emerge.
The most important question on your mind is probably whether your employer can fire you while you are on workers’ comp. Some of your friends at work have decided not to apply for workers’ compensation in the past due to fear that they will lose their job.
The most immediate answer to your question is no, your employer cannot fire you because you have filed a workers’ compensation claim. But of course, the situation is a little more complex. Your employer cannot fire you on the basis of your claim alone, but you can still be fired while you have a workers’ compensation claim underway or are receiving workers’ compensation payments if it is for a legitimate reason.
If your employer can prove there were other reasons you were fired or laid off, such as a history of poor performance reviews, planned layoffs at your company or that your job is important enough to the bottom line of the company that you need to be replaced immediately.
If you believe, however, that you have been singled out by your employer for retaliation and fired after making a workers’ comp claim or receiving a workers’ comp settlement, that is against the law.
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How Does This Situation Apply to At-Will vs. Contracted Employees?
In Pennsylvania, most workers are either contracted or at-will employees. Here is the difference:
- At-Will Employees: If you are an at-will employee, this means your employer can fire you at any time, for any reason or even no reason at all. On the other hand, it also means you can leave the job at any time, for any reason or no reason at all.
- Contract Employees: Contract employees, however, are in a different boat. Most contract employees are almost always working on a union contract. In most cases, these kinds of deals prevent your employer from terminating you without just cause as outlined in the agreement.
It is much easier for employers to fire at-will workers on workers’ compensation. Your boss is not going to come right out and say, “I am letting you go because you filed for workers’ comp and we just cannot afford it.” Most employers know this kind of honesty leads to very costly lawsuits. Instead, they look for a reason to let you go that allows them to deny they were firing you because of your workers’ compensation claim.
As noted above, contract workers have more protections than at-will workers, but that still does not mean they cannot be fired if they are on workers’ comp. Many contracts contain provisions that give your employer permission to fire you if you are going to be absent from the job for an extended period, like six months to a year.
Employers know dozens of ways to fire employees, especially at-will employees. It is incumbent on you to pay close attention to the way your employer reacts if you file a workers’ compensation claim. If you sense that you are being fired only for that reason, this is very likely a retaliation termination, and you should contact a lawyer about filing a lawsuit.
If I Am a Good Employee Why Would My Boss Want to Fire Me?
To quote a popular song from a few years ago, “It’s all about the Benjamins.” Money worries drive many employers to find “legitimate” reasons to terminate workers who have filed workers’ comp claims. Firing employees who file for workers’ compensation saves employers money in two ways:
- Avoiding Workers’ Comp Costs: While the state requires all employers to provide workers’ compensation insurance to their employees, the cost of that insurance is borne by the employers alone. This means that any workers’ compensation claim, particularly if you have suffered a serious work-related injury, can put a dent in your employer’s pocketbook. This does not make employers happy.
- Replacing Your Position: Your employer needs somebody in your job as soon as possible. Your boss may think you are the most exceptional employee in the world. And many times, that means your employer will hold your job for you. If you are going to be absent, however, for many months or if you have to return to work with restrictions that will prevent you from doing your job as you had previously done it, your employer may need to replace you. A long-term absence in a critical position hits the company’s bottom line.
Will My Workers’ Compensation Benefits End If I Am Fired?
The good news is no, you do not lose your benefits if you are fired. Your workers’ compensation benefits do not end whether your employer has fired you or laid you off. The law requires that you continue to receive wage loss payments and medical benefits through your former employers’ insurance company.
You will continue to receive these benefits until your doctor says you have recovered or reached what is known as maximum medical improvement.
If your employer has kept your job open for you until you return, and your doctor says you are well enough to return to work — with or without restrictions — but you do not actually feel well enough and do not go back, you may be terminated and undermine your chance at future benefits. If you are in this situation, talk to an attorney right away.
Can I Be Fired If I Return to My Job With Work Restrictions From the Doctor?
In most cases, if you have work restrictions that prevent you from doing your previous job, your employer can offer you an alternative position, but it does not have to pay as much as your last position. If you turn it down, this may create a problem for other workers’ comp benefits that can help you find a new job.
Remember, under workers’ compensation rules and regulations, you only need to be disabled or injured on the job that you were doing at the time. This is different from something like Social Security Insurance Disability benefits, where you have to prove you cannot perform any job for at least a year. Thus, it may be easier for your employer to find a position that will accommodate your restrictions if they wish to keep you on staff.
Your employer, however, can still fire you if you have work restrictions for the same reasons they could fire you even if you filed a workers’ comp claim. They can also fire you if they are unable to accommodate your doctor’s restrictions.
The good news, however, is that you have a decent chance of having your workers’ comp benefits reinstated. If the doctor gave you work restrictions, it is much easier to prove you had not completely healed at the time of your termination at work. You are also eligible for other workers’ comp benefits, such as vocational training if your injury means you need to look for a new kind of job.
How Do I Know If I Have Been Fired Only Because I Filed a Workers’ Compensation Claim?
As much as your boss might be worried about money, they are still not allowed to fire you just because you have filed a workers’ comp claim. You need to be aware of the signs that this is happening, which include:
- Timing: How soon did your boss fire you after you informed them you are going to file a workers’ compensation claim?
- Reaction: How did your boss react when you told them about your workers’ compensation claim? Were they angry? Annoyed? Did they try to talk you out of it?
- Situation: Are you the only employee being fired? Is the manner of your firing unusual for your workplace?
- Explanations: Does the reason for your firing keep changing or make no sense to you?
- Treatment: After you have filed a workers’ comp claim, have you noticed obstacles are being put in your way that will either provide your employer with a reason to fire you or have you quit? Have you been demoted? Have your responsibilities changed? Has your boss disciplined you for no apparent reason?
- Lies: Does your employer provide false evidence to the state workers’ compensation agency about your injury or to his insurance company that may lead them to deny you a settlement?
When and How to File a Retaliation Claim or Lawsuit
If you suspect you have been wrongly terminated because you have filed a workers’ comp claim, you need to file a retaliation claim or lawsuit as soon as you can. Many states only provide a tiny window of a few weeks or a few months to file your lawsuit. If this is your situation, it is in your best interest to contact a lawyer immediately.
In this situation, it is essential that you document everything about your injury and employment situation. Remember to:
- Keep a file of all relevant documents about your medical condition
- Print all the emails between you and your employer and their insurance company that are related to your workers’ comp claim
- Write down the names of everyone present during meetings with your employer and their insurance company, as well as any notes about what is discussed in the meetings
These documents and measures will help you and your lawyer support any lawsuit you may file.
How Can I Prove I Was Wrongfully Terminated?
In most states, including Pennsylvania, an employee who alleges they have been wrongfully terminated because they filed a workers’ comp claim need to prove all four of the following points:
- You were an employee of the company in question and entitled to receive workers’ comp benefits
- You filed a workers’ compensation claim
- You were fired or laid off after you filed your claim
- Your employer fired or laid you off because you filed a workers’ compensation claim
This feat is not at all easy to do, especially on your own. Employers can be quite devious when it comes to finding reasons to terminate employees. As noted above, this is particularly the case with at-will employees. If you are injured severely enough that you cannot work and need to file for workers’ compensation, do not be afraid to do it.
Working through an injury may look reasonable in the short-term but can cause several long-term health problems.
Should I Hire a Lawyer to Help Me?
If you genuinely believe you have been fired while on workers’ compensation because of the claim, you should contact an attorney. A good lawyer can go a long way toward a successful outcome in filing a lawsuit to protect your rights.
Remember, most states require you to file a retaliation claim against your former employer within a short period of weeks or months. This process can be confusing and frustrating on your own, and your boss’s insurance company may have lots of experience in fighting these kinds of retaliation claims.
A lawyer will help you gather the needed documentation, file the appropriate paperwork on time, prepare your case and fight for you in court.
The Experienced Team at KBG Injury Law Can Help You Fight a Wrongful Termination
It’s no piece of cake to prepare everything you need to file a wrongful termination lawsuit. If you do not know what to do — which most people do not since they will probably only do this once in their lifetimes — this process can appear to be daunting, complicated and confusing. Our team of experienced and knowledgeable lawyers at KBG Injury Law can help you determine the best course of action, and then help you make it happen. We want to make sure you are receiving the results you deserve after you have been wrongly fired or laid off.
At KBG Injury Law, we see you a person who needs our help, and not just another client. We strive to treat each client individually and give them the attention they deserve. We understand how a wrongful termination can affect you and your family emotionally and financially, as well as how important it is to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.
We invite you to schedule a free consultation, where we can discuss your situation and determine how we can help you. You can reach us 24/7 by calling our toll-free line at 1-(800) 509-1011.