Recently, an injured worker came into my office seeking a review of their workers’ compensation case. Upon review of the case, I determined that, although there was not much I could do to assist with their injury claim, it appeared as though the worker had been fired for reporting the injury to their employer.
Unfortunately, termination of an injured employee is common practice by employers, especially in certain industries. However, to do so may be potentially illegal. Most states have enacted laws that make it illegal to fire, suspend, demote, relocate, or take other adverse actions against an employee who participates in certain protected activities. For many states, those protected activities include, but are not limited to, filing a workers’ compensation claim, or even inquiring about their rights regarding workers’ compensation.
Simply being fired after inquiring or filing a workers’ compensation claim is not sufficient to bring a claim though. An employer is free to terminate an employee for a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason, even if the employee has filed or inquired about a workers’ compensation claim. It is the employee’s responsibility to prove that the reason for his or her termination was in fact their inquiry or filing of a workers’ compensation claim.
To bring the claim, most states require the complaint be filed within a specific period of time from the last retaliatory or discriminatory act. The complaint typically must detail the alleged act and why the complainant believes it was taken. Depending on the state, this complaint may first need to be filed with an administrative agency before a lawsuit may be filed in state court.
If the employer is found to have willfully violated the law, the court can award lost compensation and wages and other economic damages caused by the violation. Some state statutes even allow an award of double or triple the amount of wage and economic damages. Lastly, the court can also order that the complainant’s legal and attorneys’ fees be paid by the employer or their insurance company.
If you feel that you have been terminated due to your filing or inquiry into worker’s compensation, you should consult with an experienced wrongful termination law attorney Charlotte NC relies on as soon as possible to reserve any rights you may have.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Harman Law for their insight into wrongful termination and retaliation cases.