Something happened, and you were hurt at work. It could have been anything. Maybe it was an accident you caused, or maybe someone else caused it. Maybe it was no one’s fault, and it could have happened to anyone.
Regardless of how it occurred, now you have to deal with the consequences. In different cases, that might mean different things. Depending on the injury’s severity, it could lead to days, weeks or even months in the hospital. It could also mean weeks of resting at home. Every situation will be different.
All these situations have one thing in common, however. They put you out of commission for a little while, leaving you with the enormous question mark — what happens to my job if I’m not there to work it? And how will I make ends meet until I am well enough to work again? Can I be fired due to injury?
Most people know there are laws regulating this type of situation. You’ve probably heard a bit about them — phrases like workers’ compensation, medical leave and other similar terms. But what do these terms actually mean? And how much protection do they 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?
Today, our goal is to provide you with some crucial knowledge on this topic and hopefully allay some of your fears. We will answer your questions about whether or not someone can be laid off after a work injury or fired due to an injury. By arming yourself with this knowledge, you can feel more confident and better prepared to face your situation.
What Is Workers’ Compensation?
To start off our investigation of these important topics, it is critical to make sure we all have a basic understanding of the relevant terminology. To that end, we will begin by talking about workers’ compensation — what it is, what it does and how it can help you.
In years past, when a worker was injured severely enough to keep them from their work, this used to spell disaster. Logically, an injury renders them unable to work, meaning they cannot receive wages. This loss of income coupled with the medical bills could often lead to the absolute ruin of workers and their families.
That is where workers’ compensation comes in to help prevent this eventuality. The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act exists as a safety net for workers who have been injured in the line of work. It provides these injured workers with compensation, which might include medical benefits, missed wages or more, depending on the specific situation.
Are There Any Downsides to Claiming Workers’ Compensation?
The injured worker might wonder if there is ever a good reason not to file for Workers’ Compensation. Is there ever a situation where this might somehow reflect poorly on an employee or cause negative consequences?
Because of stories they may have heard, some workers may worry that calling on workers’ compensation will cause their employers to fire them. The logic of this argument states that a company will have no interest in waiting for an employee to recover when they could hire a new employee instead.
However, this is not the case. There’s protection for workers against this kind of retaliation — which we will discuss later. The important thing to know, however, is that employers cannot legally retaliate against employees for exercising their right to claim benefits in exchange for an injury they received while working.
Can an Employee Be Laid Off While on Workers’ Compensation?
This is the crucial question. You have applied and been accepted for workers’ comp, and you’re safely recuperating at home or in the hospital. You are receiving all the benefits and compensation you should be. At this point in the process, the question is this — “can my employer fire me while I am on workers’ comp?”
The answer is a little tricky.
Employers may fire employees who happen to be on workers’ comp. However, they cannot fire an employee specifically for being injured and filing for workers’ comp. This may sound like little more than a technicality, but bear with us.
Most employees in Pennsylvania are employed under what is known as “at will” employment. This means employers reserve the right to fire employees at any time and for any reason, provided this reason does not violate any civil rights. This agreement works in reverse as well, meaning employees reserve the right to quit at any time and for any reason.
This same agreement extends even when an employee is injured. Just because the worker has been injured and is receiving workers’ compensation, they do not suddenly receive protection against being laid off. They may be fired or laid off just the same as any other employee.
This answer may come as a surprise to many workers. After all, you might expect that once you have been injured at work, you suddenly fall under an extra layer of protection from termination. However, think of it this way.
Since you are receiving compensation for wage loss, think of yourself as just another ordinary employee. Yes, you have been injured and are recuperating at home or in the hospital, but your employer is paying you just the same as every other employee. That means they still have the right to include you in any layoffs or other rounds of systematic downsizing.
The only special protection you have is the notion you cannot be fired expressly because you are receiving workers’ comp benefits and are not currently working. Besides this, however, the same rules apply to you as every other employee in the company.
Employers cannot fire an employee simply because they are on workers’ comp. This can even be cause for legal action against the company. The problem, however, often lies in proving that job termination was directly linked to the injury and the workers’ comp benefits. In many cases, this can be difficult to prove definitively.
In this way, we see the complications with the original question of whether or not you can be fired after a workers’ comp settlement. You can be fired just as easily as any other employee, but you cannot be fired because of your injury and your workers’ comp claim. If you believe you have been wrongly fired due to receiving workers’ comp benefits, this is something you can sue over — and even win, in many cases.
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, they will provide you with a full list of activities you should avoid at work for the time being. This state is generally referred to as returning to work “with restrictions.”
As we mentioned, you can still be fired or laid off just like any other worker in the company. The fact that you’re working with restrictions does not exempt you from this possibility. However, there are some slight complications that make this less simple and clear-cut.
If you were not yet fully recovered at the time of your termination, your employer will most likely still have to pay your workers’ compensation benefits — unless you were fired with a cause, such as disciplinary issues or something else of that nature.
The same rules that applied before apply here, as well. If you can prove you were let go for no other reason than because of your injury, this is cause for legal action.
A slightly similar case would be one in which you had returned to work with restrictions, and your workers’ comp benefits had just ceased since your return. What if you were fired at this point? In a case like this, you would have a good chance of having your benefits reinstated. The logical argument is that you were not fully healed yet and will be unable to fully work somewhere else for a little while. In the meantime, you should continue to receive your benefits.
The broad strokes we can draw here are as follows. You can be fired while working with restrictions. However, if you were not yet fully recovered, you will still receive your workers’ comp benefits. The only case in which you would not receive these benefits would be a case where you were fired with cause.
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 just 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 you are entitled to.
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 them 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, if your doctor has cleared you to return to work and your employer has made it clear they are ready and willing to accept you back, what happens if you still do not 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 removed if it can be 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, we understand the law is complicated and is not always explained very well. That is why we endeavor to simply and carefully walk you through your case, explaining everything to you and helping you understand exactly what your options are.
If you need help with your workers’ compensation case, whether because you are having trouble claiming your benefits or because an employer has wrongfully fired you after an injury, we want to help you. Visit us online to schedule your first free consultation today. If you have any additional questions, do not hesitate to reach out to us at any time by using our contact form or calling us at 800-509-1011.