Construction workers acquire more work injuries than any other profession. However, work illnesses and injuries can happen at any place of employment.
In 2015, workers’ comp accounted for over $31 billion in medical benefits and over $30 billion in wage loss compensation.
Unfortunately, not everyone gets the compensation they deserve. Plus, reimbursement and compensation can take time, depending on the situation.
Suffering a workplace injury is stressful enough as it is, let alone worrying about losing your job. Most employers aren’t thrilled to learn about new claims, primarily because it can raise their insurance rates.
Have you recently taken a leave from work on workers’ comp and are worried about losing your job?
Keep reading to learn all about whether or not you can get fired while you’re on workers’ comp.
How Does Workers’ Compensation Work?
Workers’ compensation is an insurance program. It provides benefits to employees who endure job-related illnesses and injuries. It’s a state-mandated program, and every state has its own laws.
The federal government has a separate workers’ comp program for federal employees.
Do you want to find out more detailed information regarding workers’ compensation in your particular state? If so, you can find it on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.
The way that it works is that an employee with a work-related injury or illness can get workers’ compensation benefits regardless of who was at fault for the particular illness or injury.
You don’t have to be at your place of work while the injury or illness occurs, but it HAS to be work-related. So if you were out on a delivery or running a work-related errand, you’d be covered under workers’ comp.
There are certain exceptions in which workers’ comp will not cover an employee. For example, if the employee was intoxicated on the job while injured, they would not be allowed to get worker’s comp.
You Are Protected from Retaliation During a Workers’ Comp Claim
When it comes to getting fired on workers’ comp, there are laws that protect you from retaliation.
In the United States, most employees work at-will. That means that an employer can fire you at any time, for any reason, if you’re an at-will employee.
The reason for firing, however, cannot be an illegal one.
Certain professions, like public school teachers, have more protections in place under their contracts.
Firing for any reason is much different than discriminating. It’s illegal for almost any employer to discriminate or retaliate against their employees just because they filed a workers’ comp claim.
That means an employer can’t fire, demote, reassign, or punish any employee just because they filed a worker’s compensation claim.
The protection is in place because otherwise, employees would be too scared to exercise their workers’ comp rights. Plus, without accountability, employers wouldn’t have the same incentive to maintain safe work environments.
An employer doesn’t have to hold your job for you, though, nor do they have to keep it open for you for when you return.
In What Ways Does Workers’ Comp NOT Protect Your Job?
Even though your employer can’t fire you as an act of retaliation for filing a workers’ comp claim, that doesn’t mean they can’t let you go for another reason.
For example, if you had a documented history of discipline problems or poor performance, your employer could let you go for those reasons.
If company-wide layoffs took place after you filed your claim, it most likely wouldn’t be considered illegal retaliation.
Plus, most state workers’ comp laws don’t guarantee that you’ll get your old job back after you’ve been out and recovering from your injury or sickness.
Most states don’t require employers to keep positions open or offer you another post. So if they fill your job while you’re out, there isn’t much you can do.
In What Other Ways Does Workers’ Comp Protect Your Job?
Some states do give injured employees certain rights to reinstatement. In certain states, if the company you work for is large enough, they’re required to keep your job open as long as you return within 3 years of your injury or illness, as long as you can perform the same duties.
Depending on your job, you could also be protected by federal law. If your employer has legal obligations under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), your job could be protected.
These laws are put in place to protect employees with severe disabilities and health conditions from losing their employment.
Your job could also be protected by a union contract, which is why it’s essential to check with your lawyer to see what your employer is obligated to provide.
How Can You Tell If Your Employer Fired You Because of Workers’ Comp?
Even though it’s illegal for employers to retaliate against workers who file workers’ compensation claims, it can be hard to determine whether or not it was the reason for termination.
There are a couple of signs to look out for, however.
If you were fired within days or a few weeks of filing your claim, it’s more likely that your termination was a result of retaliation.
If any of your supervisors or managers have said negative things about you or your claim, or if they’ve pressured you in any way, that could hold up as evidence that your termination was illegal discrimination.
What was the reason your employer gave for letting you go? Was it clear? Did it relate to your performance or the company’s financial health?
If you were a top performer with no history of poor performance or bad behavior and the company isn’t doing poorly, your workers’ comp claim could very well be the reason why you were let go.
What If You Were Fired Because of Your Claim?
If you can prove that your employer took negative actions against you or fired you because of your workers’ comp claim, you should be eligible to receive more compensation.
In most states, you’ll have to file a retaliation claim as part of your workers’ comp case. Typically, you can ask to be reinstated and receive compensation for lost wages.
In some states, you should also be able to collect a penalty. If your employer discriminates against you for filing a claim in California, for example, they must pay you an additional 50% of your claim benefits (up to $10,000).
In some states, you can file a separate lawsuit against your former employer.
What Happens to Your Benefits if You’re Laid Off?
If your employer fires you after your workers’ compensation claim, you’ll continue to receive your benefits. When a worker who is receiving workers’ comp benefits gets fired or laid off, it does not affect their right to keep getting those benefits.
It doesn’t matter if you’re currently employed or not. You still received that injury while you were working at that particular job, and are still entitled to those benefits.
How Do You Determine When to Return to Work?
Your doctor is the one who determines when you’re ready to return to work.
Many doctors will release their patients once they’re partially recovered – they’ll just give you a list of restrictions based on the information you provide about your job and the demands.
Just make sure that if it’s an illness you suffer from that you safeguard your immune system when you head back to work.
You should give your employer a copy of your release documentation that shows you’re physically ready to return to work, with some restrictions.
At that point, your employer can choose to accept your return to work or not. If they reject your return, you’ll continue to receive your workers’ compensation benefits until you are fully recovered.
If they accept your return to work, they might send you a document called a “Notice of Ability to Return to Work.” This lets you know that your job is there for you when you’re fully recovered and ready to return.
If both your doctor and your employer clear you to return to work, but you decide not to return, you’ll no longer receive your benefits.
If you haven’t found a workers’ comp doctor yet, https://workerscompdoctor.com/injuries/ is an excellent resource for finding the best doctor for your workplace injury or illness.
If You’re Worried About Losing Your Job, Remember That You Won’t Lose Your Benefits
Sometimes an employer can’t hold a job for you. If the busy season is approaching and they have to fill your position, and your particular state doesn’t dictate that they keep your position open, an employer could replace you.
However, it’s entirely illegal for an employer to fire you as a retaliatory response to your workers’ compensation claim.
Even if the worst happens, losing your job doesn’t mean that you will lose your workers’ comp benefits.
If you do feel you were fired in retaliation, make sure to document and keep track of all correspondence, and talk to your lawyer about your options.
Being out on workers’ comp can be both mentally and physically difficult. Check out these self-health survival guides to help you get back to living, eating, and sleeping healthily.
If you need advice getting your nutritional life back on track, contact us so we can help!