Can My Employer Fire Me While I’m On Workers’ Compensation?
You’ve been seriously injured at work. You are dealing with spending time in the hospital or taking multiple trips to the doctor. Stress is at an all-time high. The injury wasn’t your fault, so you shouldn’t have to worry about losing your job. Right? I mean, your employer can’t fire you while you’re on workers’ compensation anyway…right?
Suffering a workplace injury is never easy and no hardworking individual should ever lose their job because they reported an injury to their employer. However, the reality is that often times, especially in certain industries, it is common practice to terminate injured employees.
Harman Law is somewhat unique in that, not only do we represent injured workers in their workers’ compensation claims, but we also represent employees who have been wrongfully terminated. We are often asked by our workers’ compensation clients whether or not they have to worry about the company terminating their employment once they’ve filed a workers’ compensation claim. Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Just because you’re on workers’ compensation, you are not protected from being fired or laid off. For example, if you were going to be fired due to poor performance prior to the injury, or you were going to be laid off due to a larger reduction-in-force, simply filing a workers’ compensation claim does not shield you from termination.
With that being said, your employer cannot fire you because you filed, or even inquired about, a workers’ compensation claim. Under the North Carolina Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (“REDA”), it is illegal to fire, suspend, demote, relocate, or take other adverse actions against an employee who participates in certain protected activities. Those activities include, but are not limited to, filing a workers’ compensation complaint.
In order to bring a REDA complaint, the employee (called the “complainant”) must file the complaint with the North Carolina Employment Discrimination Bureau within 180 days of the last retaliatory or discriminatory act. The complaint must detail the alleged act, and why you believe it was taken. After the complaint is filed, the Employment Discrimination Bureau will begin an investigation, in which it contacts both you and the employer. If the employer is found to have willfully violated REDA, the court can triple the amount awarded for lost compensation and wages, or other economic damages caused by the violation. The court can also order that the complainant’s legal and attorneys’ fees be paid by the employer.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to prove the exact reason why you were fired, and your employer will most likely not admit that workers compensation was the reason. You don’t always need the “smoking gun” type of evidence, such as a supervisor telling you they are firing you because you were injured or filed the claim, but you will have to find solid evidence that the termination was retaliatory. If your employer has another reason that was stated publicly, try to collect documentation or evidence that demonstrates why that reason is unconvincing.
If there’s any good news, it’s that regardless of the reason why your employment is terminated, any workers’ compensation benefits you were receiving before the termination will continue after the termination. Still, many workers are reluctant to pursue a claim out of fear of losing their jobs and choose to use their own health insurance or avoid getting any treatment at all. Although that fear is not completely unjustified, when you have been injured at work, you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits and should not be afraid of taking advantage of that right.
At Harman Law, we are committed to helping injured workers get the workers’ compensation benefits they deserve, while also making sure they are compensated in the event that they become victims of retaliatory termination.