As someone who has suffered a workplace injury, you have rights. However, these rights do not include the right to keep your job while collecting workers’ compensation benefits. Your employer can terminate your employment for any of several reasons while you are recovering from your workplace injury.
This right to fire you does not mean you do not have any rights whatsoever. Your employer may not terminate your employment for just any reason, even in states considered “at will.” Therefore, you should consult with an attorney if you find yourself fired while on workers’ compensation.
Workers’ Compensation Programs and Benefits
Nearly every state in the United States requires employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance. In the states that do require workers’ compensation insurance, these laws require all businesses to meet this obligation with few exceptions. Those that do not can face state-imposed fines and penalties.
Workers’ compensation insurance exists to provide a ready source of benefits to workers who become injured or ill while on the job. Compensation covers workers’ medical and treatment bills while they recover. In cases of severe injuries, workers could also receive a portion of their wages while they are off work.
Under most states’ systems, employees are eligible for benefits even if they caused their workplace mishap. Workers’ compensation programs benefit both employees and employers. Laws usually shield employers from workers’ compensation lawsuits filed in response to workplace injury accidents while the workers get treatment and benefits expeditiously.
Employers Cannot Retaliate or Discriminate Against Workers Who File for Benefits
All states that operate a workers’ compensation program prohibit employers from firing employees who file for benefits. Your employer cannot terminate your employment simply because you became ill or injured while on the job and are now seeking benefits. Doing so can result in fines and penalties for the employer.
Similarly, an employer cannot discriminate in terminating employees, regardless of whether they are collecting workers’ compensation benefits. For example, it remains illegal to terminate an employee based on their race, national origin, sex, or any other protected classification.
Reasons You Can Be Fired While on Workers’ Compensation
The protections against termination do not extend far beyond those listed above. While your employer cannot terminate you for filing a workers’ compensation claim, there are numerous situations where you can be fired while on workers’ compensation. These include the following situations:
Your Employment Contract Says Your Employer Can Fire You
Workers’ compensation laws and benefits do not provide protection against termination clauses in employment contracts. If you have an employment contract that says your employer can fire you for missing a certain number of days from work, a court will likely find this provision enforceable.
In the same way, an employment contract that says you are to perform a particular job will probably allow your employer to terminate you if you can no longer perform that job. Here, too, your employer can fire you while on workers’ compensation if it appears you will never be able to physically perform your job duties again.
You Violated Company Policy
Unlawful retaliation could occur when your employer gets wind that you are applying for workers’ compensation benefits following an injury. But it is lawful for your employer to fire you for breaking company policy, such as safety policies. Termination under these circumstances can happen even while you are recovering from your workplace injury or illness.
Suppose that you are driving a company vehicle on a work-related errand and you crash into another car. You suffer injuries and submit a claim for workers’ compensation.
Your employer cannot fire you for taking this action of seeking benefits. However, if an investigation shows you were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash, your employer can terminate you for this breach of policy.
You Cannot Return to Work Despite Medical Care and Treatment
At some point, you will reach what is known as “maximum medical improvement.” Maximum medical improvement is the point where further medical treatment will not benefit you or improve your condition.
Your treating physicians will make this determination during the course of your treatment as they continue to evaluate your condition.
Depending on your injury, you may reach this point of maximum medical benefit and still be unable to return to your previous job. For example, suppose that you worked a job requiring manual dexterity but suffered severe nerve damage in an accident. In that case, you may never be able to use your hands to manipulate objects again.
You may be fired while on workers’ compensation if it appears you will not be able to do your job even with the benefit of medical treatment and reasonable accommodations.
As an alternative to firing you, your employer may offer you a different job. The job may be one that is better suited to you in light of your condition and limitations. This would enable you to continue your employment with your employer. However, your employer is not required to create a new position to accommodate you.
It is important to remember that your employer is not required to keep you on the job or the payroll if you cannot do the job they hired you to perform.
When to Contact a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer
If you’ve been fired while on workers’ compensation, you should make sure your termination was not due to unlawful retaliation or discrimination. The Joel Bieber Firm can help you look into the matter and make this determination. If your employer acted unlawfully, we will take all necessary measures to protect your rights.
Contact The Joel Bieber Firm today and schedule a consultation with us to discuss your needs.