You slip and fall on a wet patch of floor at work or get rear-ended while you're driving a company vehicle. No problem - you can claim worker's compensation.
But should you? Many workers worry about being fired, demoted or otherwise punished if they file a workers' compensation claim. It's easy to understand the concern, especially if your workplace culture is stingy with related job benefits, like sick leave. Take a look at what you need to know about employer retaliation for workers' compensation claims.
Can an Injured Employee Be Fired?
There isn't a simple yes or no answer to this question. Michigan, like many states, is an at-will employment state. That means that for most workers, you can be fired at any time, for any reason or no reason.
However, there are some important exceptions. For example, you can't be fired for discriminatory reasons, like your gender or race. And, importantly for injured workers, you also can't be fired for exercising your employee rights. Claiming workers' compensation is one of your employee rights. If an employer fires you for claiming workers' compensation, this is called retaliation.
On the other hand, you could be fired for some other reason, like excessive tardiness or insubordination. If you have a history of write-ups for tardiness and are then injured on the job, your employer might decide to fire you the next time that you're late, giving tardiness as the reason.
In a case like this, it may be that you wouldn't have been fired had you not been injured, but you'll find that difficult to prove. By contrast, if you have no history of disciplinary action but are fired for being late after being injured, the timing may suggest that it was really the injury that prompted the firing.
Can Retaliation Happen Before You File a Claim?
You don't necessarily have to have filed a workers' compensation claim to be a victim of retaliation in the workplace. In 2012, a court found that a worker who was fired for failing to come into work because he was visiting a doctor after a work-related injury but who had not yet filed a claim was a victim of retaliation and entitled to compensation.
The court's decision hinged on the fact that the worker indicated that he needed to see a doctor. A previous case, in which the employee did not indicate that a visit to the doctor was needed, was decided in favor of the employee instead.
What this means is that once you let your employer know that you're injured and in need of medical treatment, you're already exercising your rights as an employee, even if you haven't yet filed a claim. This is why it's important to make sure that you promptly inform your employer of any injuries and your intent to seek medical treatment after an injury.
What Should You Do If You Think You're a Victim of Retaliation?
Like worker's compensation claims, retaliation claims are time-sensitive. If you believe that you've been fired or demoted because of an injury or workers' compensation claim, you will need to act quickly. You may only have weeks or months to file a legal claim.
Make sure that you get copies of any documents relating to your injury, including both medical records and accident reports or other paperwork filed with your employer, as well as any documentation of the adverse action by your employer. You'll need this documentation to prove your case.
Don't wait to contact an attorney to help you with your claim. A workers' compensation attorney such as Bernstein & Bernstein can help you determine whether you have a retaliation claim and inform you about what steps to take next.