Your work injury will put you out of commission for a while, leaving you with an abundance of questions. What happens to my job if I’m not there to work? How will I provide an income for myself and my family until I am well enough to work again? Can I be fired because of my injury?
Thankfully, laws exist to protect you and your money when you suffer from a work injury. You have probably heard about workers’ compensation, medical leave and other similar programs, but how do they apply to your specific situation? How much job protection do these benefits offer when you’ve been hurt? Will they prevent your boss from giving your job to someone else instead of waiting for you to get better?
This article will provide you with critical knowledge about work injuries and will alleviate some of your fears regarding workers’ compensation. By arming yourself with this knowledge, you can feel more confident as you face the challenges of your work injury.
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What Is Workers’ Compensation?
Workers’ compensation provides injured employees with compensation, which might include medical benefits, missed wages, or other expenses accrued by your specific injury. When a worker is injured severely enough to miss work for a long period of time, they cannot receive wages.
Without workers’ compensation, this loss of income — in addition to all the medical bills accrued — could add significant stress to the injured worker’s life and family. The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act exists as a safety net for workers who have been injured at work. Employees are eligible for workers’ compensation at the start of their employment, as soon as they need treatment for a work-related injury. Workers’ compensation benefits are calculated based on your average weekly wage. You typically will receive up to two-thirds of your weekly income.
If you get hurt on the job, report your injury as soon as possible. Schedule an appointment with a doctor to document your symptoms and to record the details of your accident. Most importantly, speak with a workers’ compensation attorney to ensure you will receive fair benefits for your accident.
Can Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim Get Me Fired?
You may be concerned that if you file a workers’ compensation claim your employer may retaliate and fire you. Although it would be naive to think that this has never happened, in general employers understand that doing so only increases their financial exposure. Not only could an improper termination lead to prolonged workers’ compensation payments, but it would open up the employer to a civil lawsuit and punitive damages.
Employers in Pennsylvania cannot legally retaliate against employees who exercise their right to claim benefits for an injury they received while working. A workers’ compensation attorney can explain how to protect yourself against this kind of retaliation.
Can an Employee Be Laid Off While on Workers’ Compensation?
You have applied and been accepted for workers’ compensation, and you are recuperating at home or in the hospital. You are receiving all the benefits and compensation you should be. At this point in the process, you may be concerned about how long will you employer hold your job? Can you be replaced? Can you be fired while out on workers’ compensation? The short answer is that Pennsylvania is an “at-will” employment state, meaning that an employer can terminate the employment relationship at any time except for specific reasons (discrimination, such as age, race, religion, sexual orientation; retaliation; whistleblowing). Depending on the size of your employer, you may also have federally granted FMLA benefits which will protect your job for up to 12 weeks. The law recognizes, however, that as a business your employer needs to fill positions with qualified individuals to remain productive and therefore there is no right or guarantee that you will get your old job back after an injury. If you are a member of a union you may have additional rights and should consult with your representative.
Your employer still has the right to include you in any layoffs or rounds of systematic downsizing. Even if you have been hurt on the job, you do not suddenly fall under an extra layer of protection from termination.
What Happens If You Go Back to Work With Restrictions and Then Are Laid Off?
Perhaps you were injured, but you are on the road to a full recovery. You are not entirely there yet, but the doctors say you are making excellent progress. They even say you can return to work, provided you take it easy.
Most likely, your physician will provide you with a full list of activities you should avoid at work as you recover from your injury. When you are not physically able to complete all of your job responsibilities, you return to work “with restrictions.”
Working with restrictions does not exempt you from being fired or laid off like any other worker in the company.If you are under restrictions and laid off through no fault of your own, however, you are entitled to a reinstatement of your wage loss benefits upon layoff rather than being relegated to unemployment benefits which generally do not pay as much (unemployment benefits are taxed and are of limited duration). If you are back full duty, even if you are still treating for your injury, you are treated like every other employee in the event of a layoff. For this reason, it is important to follow your doctor’s restrictions and avoid the urging of your employer to prematurely get a “full duty” release which could hurt you in the long run. It is also critical not to quit if you have been released to return to work simply because you are having difficulty performing the work. In such a situation you should discuss your difficulties with your doctor and have your restrictions clarified.
If you are released to return with restrictions, keep in mind that your employer has a right to place you in any position within those restrictions, and at whatever pay it chooses. The key is that if your light duty work pays less than your pre-injury wage, the workers’ compensation insurance carrier must make up the difference. Many employees feel that the light duty work or rate of pay that is offered to them is meant to be demeaning, and the temptation is to refuse the work and/or quit. Do not fall into this trap as you are playing right into the hands of the insurance carrier. The mantra in the workers’ compensation system is that “work is work” and even if you have 30 years experience as a machine technician, your employer can bring you back to work with a clipboard making sure employees wash their hands after using the restroom (don’t laugh–this is a true case). As long as the employer views the work as worthwhile you must attempt it if it is within your restrictions.
Consult with one of our certified workers’ compensation attorneys who can further explain your rights if you are laid off or fired after a work injury.
What Happens to My Workers’ Comp Benefits If I Am Laid Off After an Injury?
Now that we have established you can be laid off while on workers’ compensation, this might raise one more question in your brain. Logically, the next question you should be asking yourself is this — if you are fired after a workers’ comp claim, what happens to your benefits? Do you continue to receive them? Or do they evaporate along with your job?
The short answer is yes; you will continue to receive your benefits. The long answer, as you might suspect, is a little bit more complex.
When an injured employee who is currently receiving workers’ comp benefits is fired or laid off, this does not affect their right to continue receiving these benefits. According to the law, you still have every right to these benefits. It does not matter if you are currently employed or not. You received your injury while working, and thus, it will still be covered. You will keep receiving your medical benefits, lost wages and anything other assistance to which you are entitled.
In most cases where you have been injured on the job, your doctor is the one who will tell you when it is safe for you to return to work. There is a good chance that once you are partially recovered, they will release you to work with restrictions, as we discussed in the previous section. The doctor is usually able to come up with a list of appropriate restrictions based on accurate information you provide about your job and its typical physical demands.
At this point, you should provide your employer with a copy of your release documentation to show you are physically ready to return to work with some reasonable restrictions. They can choose to accept your return to work or not.
If they reject your return to work, you will keep receiving your workers’ comp benefits, at least until you are fully recovered. If they accept your return to work, on the other hand, they might send a document called a Notice of Ability to Return to Work, even before you are fully recovered. This will let you know that your job is ready and waiting for you when you return.
However, in the case that your doctor has cleared you to return to work and your employer determined they are ready and willing to accept you back, what happens if you choose not to return to work? If you are perfectly capable of returning to a job, but you do not, you will stop receiving your workers’ compensation benefits.
This should make perfect sense. After all, workers’ compensation is about helping injured workers make ends meet while they are unable to work. If they become able to work and choose not to, they would be taking advantage of workers’ comp benefits. These benefits will be revoked if it is proven that such an event has occurred.
Talk With KBG Injury Law to Learn More About Workers’ Compensation Benefits Today
Have you been injured at work? Are you wondering how you can move forward with claiming workers’ compensation benefits? Or are you trying to cover all your bases and learn more about how the law works so you can be prepared for any eventuality?
At KBG Injury Law, our workers’ compensation attorneys understand the law is complicated. For this reason, we strive to carefully walk you through your case, explaining everything and helping you precisely understand your options.
If you need help with your workers’ compensation case, whether because you are having trouble claiming your benefits or an employer has wrongfully fired you after an injury, we want to help you. If you have any additional questions, visit us online to schedule your first free consultation today. You can also call us any time at 800-509-1011.