Can I sue my employer for firing me for getting hurt on the job? An employer can legally fire you due to workplace injury. As such, you want to know your state and federal laws to protect your rights.
You probably want to resume work after an injury as soon as you can. And nobody wants to get injured during work, only to get fired while going through a recovery.
In certain situations, an employer could legally fire a worker for being temporarily or permanently disabled. The employer could continue to pay your compensation benefits, and probably unemployment benefits. However, in CA and some other states, for example, you can’t receive disability insurance and unemployment insurance benefits at the same time—EDD.
Some other times, the employer pays the fired staff no financial compensation whatsoever. For instance, if the medical personnel allows the employee to resume work under some conditions, they could get fired if they refuse a light-duty task at work, and lose their’ compensation benefits as well.
Nevertheless, injured workers are protected from unfair and unlawful firings under state and federal laws. This publication, thus, discusses relevant information you need concerning illegal termination and at-will employment, contract breach, and employee disability.
Can I sue my employer for firing me for getting hurt on the job?
An employer can legally terminate your employment due to injury for various reasons in an at-will state. Your employee can legally terminate your employment if:
- you no longer have the required physical strength for the job;
- you failed to resume work after the doctor cleared them;
- the company would face financial difficulty refitting the workspace to accommodate an employee’s disability;
- there are no available light work alternatives that fall within your work restrictions;
- the employer is no longer impressed with your performance on the job; and
- a small business entrepreneur couldn’t afford to wait till you resume work.
At times, there’s simply no way for an employer to accommodate a disabled worker. If there aren’t any proofs of the employer’s discriminatory practices or unlawful actions, a worker’s at-will rights are restricted.
Employment and workers’ compensation law
States typically require employers to give their employees compensation insurance to protect eligible workers. Worker’s compensation laws also guard employers against getting sued by injured staff.
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In the same vein, virtually all state employment laws recognize at-will employment. That implies that an employee and employer can end the contract at any time and for any reason at all. Thus, your employer can fire you in an at-will state without cause, except if there’s:
- a breach of written or implied contract;
- public policy violation: discrimination and retaliation;
- a breach of the employer’s covenant of good faith: when they break their promise of fair treatment.
An employer will not fire you for filling a worker’s comp claim
Your employer can’t fire you for reporting a workplace injury or filling a workers’ compensation claim.
If your employer fires you, denies you certain benefits or harasses you due to getting hurt on the job, consider consulting a workers’ compensation attorney for legal counsel.
Public policy comprises regulations and laws that keep society in place. When your employer fires you in violation of public policy, they commit the crime of retaliation against workers who:
- file a compensation claim;
- refuse to engage in any unlawful activity;
- exercise their lawful right such as voting; and
- report their employer over unlawful activity.
A written contract provides employee protection
Here, before an employee resumes work, they would have signed a written contract with their employer indicating the terms of work, including how and when a termination is likely.
If your employer fires you contrary to your contract’s terms, you can sue the employer on certain grounds.
When you return after an injury on the job, your organization may have employee manuals with procedures and rules that guide your return. These organizations often support resuming workers by providing alternative work positions, keeping the employment open, or making arrangements to accommodate a newly disabled employee.
The employer is often bound by these back-to-work policies. Thus, there could be legal recourse if your employer fires you despite complying with policy guidelines.
Breach of an implied contract of employment
An implied contract of employment poses an exemption to the at-will doctrine. Workers who are in at-will employment might have a lawful right against being fired for getting hurt on the job.
An employee could override the at-will employee-employer contract if the employer made statements in the contract depicting that the job is secure, to give the worker a probable basis for an employment contract.
Federal laws: are you protected?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. It also guarantees equal opportunities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, state and local government services, and telecommunications—U.S. Department Of Labor.
The ADA says it’s unlawful for an employer to fire their employee only because the employee is disabled. Thus, it’s illegal for your employer to fire you if your disability or medical treatment stops you from resuming work immediately.
Although policies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the ADA bind employers, there are occasions where the only option an employer has is to fire you.
Sometimes, an employer can legally fire you if you can’t continue the job due to the hurt, and the organization can’t accommodate a situation where your disability is not “duty prohibitive”.
When the employer has no other alternative than firing a disabled employee, they’re not violating any federal disability laws.
Some companies aren’t large enough to accommodate flexible job positions in case of a workplace injury. In such situations where the employee’s disability makes it impossible to continue their job or take up any other available job within the organization, the employer may have to terminate the employment.
However, the employer must reasonably accommodate your situation. Such accommodations could include lower shelving, bathroom assist bars, access ramps, and raised desks, to mention a few.
An exception, however, is when accommodating a disabled worker by refitting the office is too costly for the organization. This is often the case in smaller firms without sufficient resources to pay for expensive changes.
What are your options outside of the job?
An employee is eligible for workers’ compensation for getting injured during a job or work hours. What if you couldn’t work due to a non-work-related injury? You could take some time off with pay if you have accumulated sick leave with your employer.
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Additionally, you may qualify for job protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if:
- you’ve worked for a covered employer;
- you’ve worked for the employer for at least 12 months;
- you have worked for at least 1,250 hours for the employer during the 12 months immediately preceding the leave; and
- you work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles.
The FMLA permits you to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid job-protected leave if you face a critical medical condition that prevents you from functioning on the job. Also, the employer is bound by the FMLA to uphold the employee’s health insurance.
Where you have been disabled due to injury or illness, the ADA and EEOC protect you like other disabled staff.
If the worker’s injuries were caused due to someone else’s negligence, such as a slip-and-fall or a car wreck, consult a personal injury lawyer to learn how to recover damages for:
- lost wages
- pain and suffering
Contact an employment attorney
Consult a competent employment attorney if you’ve been fired after getting hurt on the job. An employment lawyer can assist in determining how the employer can ensure reasonable accommodations for you to get your job back, and whether your employer has a legal basis to terminate the employment.