Getting Terminated from a Job after a Workers Compensation Injury
When you get hurt on the job, there are only two things that you should be worried about: medical treatment and lost wages. Work injuries are meant to be treated quickly and efficiently so that employees can get back to work without unnecessary delay.
However, this isn’t always the case. Insurance companies, adjusters, and nurse case managers are trained to cut their costs by reducing the number of benefits that are provided to injured workers. This can delay the healing process and can sometimes prevent you from getting the care you need to return to your full health.
That means in addition to watching your back when it comes to your medical treatment and worrying about whether you’ll be able to return to your old job, you also have to worry about whether a job will be available for you when you’re feeling better.
The state of Florida has many protections for employers when it comes to work injuries and very few protections for the workers. Employers are almost always completely protected against being sued for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and other causes of action that are usually available to people who are injured by a third party like in an auto accident or a fall.
It’s also very easy for an employer to terminate an employee without suffering any legal consequences. It is vitally important to make sure you take the right steps to protect your job and secure your ability to earn an income once your medical treatment has stabilized.
There are many misconceptions when it comes to what people think their employers are obligated to do once they are hurt on the job:
- An employee can’t be fired due to a workers' compensation claim. It is, in fact, illegal to be fired because you have filed or maintained a workers' compensation injury, according to Florida Statutes 440.205.
- An employer must provide light duty if directed by your doctor. There is no requirement for an employer to provide work within the restrictions provided by a doctor. However, if you have been placed on work restrictions and have not reached maximum medical improvement (MMI), then you should be receiving temporary partial disability benefits (TPD).
- Employers have to pay you the same rate as an uninjured worker. Employers do not have to pay you the same rate or give you the same amount of hours. However, they might have to pay TPD benefits if they reduce wages below 80% of pre-injury earnings.
There are misconceptions on both ends of the spectrum. Employers sometimes get the impression that a worker is only trying to scam the system by pursuing a work injury. This is typically based on false propaganda from the insurance industry, as in reality, fraudulent claims are extremely rare occurrences.
Knowing what an employer can and can’t do is important when determining whether they can legally terminate you. Every employer has different internal policies that can make it seem like they have a more significant obligation than they actually do. If you can be terminated for a reason unrelated to your work injury, they can use this reason to lawfully terminate you. Florida is a right-to-work state, so if you show up late, aren’t performing to your employer’s standards, or don’t get along with a supervisor, you can be terminated and the employer will be protected from a wrongful termination suit.
One unfortunate thing that people experience is that they undergo a long healing process and are placed at MMI with permanent work restrictions. These restrictions happen to be too significant to have them return to their previous job. Technically, the employer has no obligation to place the employee in a different position or pay them at all if they can’t do their original job. It’s a huge gap in workers’ compensation laws that does not allow for monetary benefits when an employee suffers a career-altering injury.
In the event of a work injury, there are some considerations you should take in order to make sure you are not being pushed towards quitting your job. If your shifts have been changed significantly, your location of work is much further away than before, or your pay is reduced to a level that does not match similar employees, these are all red flags that an employer might be taking steps to intimidate you into quitting the job. This is a violation of the same statute as a wrongful termination.
If you have been terminated from your job and you feel it is related to filing a workers’ compensation claim, it's important to talk to a lawyer. A wrongful termination is an additional lawsuit against your employer that has different damages than your workers’ compensation case. If you have any documentation or witnesses that are willing to support your claim, prepare them for the possibility of being brought to a court of law.