Can You Be Fired if You’re Out on Workers’ Compensation?
Many employees worry that by filing a claim for workers' compensation, they put their livelihood at risk. They may have heard horror stories of employees who received injuries on the job, filed for benefits, and were promptly laid off.
Workers' compensation laws were designed to protect employees from unlawful and unfair termination. When you learn the details of the law, you can have confidence in filing a claim and knowing your job is safe. In this blog, we'll go over the various situations workers can find themselves in and how the law applies to them.
In Oregon, courts have upheld employers' and employees' rights to "at-will" employment. That means that employers can discharge an employee at any time, without giving a required "two weeks' notice" or other period of advanced notice. Unless an employee has a contract or statute outlining a specific time period for completing a job, an employer can choose to let the employee go at will.
Employers must have a legal reason for discharging an employee. For example, employers can terminate employees based on poor work performance, company restructuring, or financial problems within the company.
Employees can also choose to leave an employer at will. They are not required to give a period of notice to their employers.
Oregon has maintained this at will employment structure because it allows for more flexibility in the workplace. Employers can adjust their staffs as workloads increase or decrease. Employees can also leave positions of employment immediately to begin a new position or escape an unfavorable work environment, if necessary.
If you find that your company has at-will status, you should recognize that filing a workers' compensation claim provides a motive for your company to terminate your employment. However, your employer cannot legally fire you in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim.
Protect yourself from unlawful termination by keeping careful records of your claim and your interactions with your superiors. Write down a transcript of any communication you have with your company's management, especially if it relates to your workers' compensation claim. The more written documentation you have of your treatment in the company, the more evidence you have to present in the case of a lawsuit.
If you are an at-will employee and you suspect your employer has terminated your employment because of a workers' compensation claim, you have grounds for a lawsuit. Contact a workers' compensation lawyer to review your case.
In Oregon, employers can contract out work to independent contractors for a specified period of time. Independent contractors fill out different tax forms than permanent employees. They are not considered permanent employees, and often work with their own insurance providers in the case of workplace injury.
Independent contractors also have different rights than at-will employees. First, your contract stipulates the terms of your employment. These terms include the time period you have contracted to work with the employer, the scope of the work to be completed, your payment rate, and specific reasons your contract can be terminated.
Many contracts include a provision that allows the employer to terminate a contractor if he or she is unable to work for a given period of time. In this case, if you sustain an injury during work that prohibits you from working, you may lose contracts. This circumstance is different than termination as a result of a workers' compensation claim. In fact, independent contractors usually have no right to file a claim with the employers' insurance.
If an employer terminates an independent contractor according to the terms of a provision in the contract, that type of termination is usually legal.
After Your Recovery
In many cases, a workplace injury results in a temporary injury. After a suitable period of time (usually determined by the nature of your injury and your insurance company), you should be able to return to your original position.
Keep in communication with your doctor to ensure you don't return to work before you fully heal, as you risk reinjuring yourself. But you also shouldn't return to work too late. If you exceed the amount of time determined to reach maximum medical improvement, your employer may have grounds to terminate your employment.
If you can return to your former position after a period of recovery, you should have no problem resuming your duties.
In some cases, however, your doctor may see the need to incorporate permanent work restrictions. These restrictions could limit the amount of physical energy you exert to perform your job. For example, a doctor could prescribe ergonomic work standards, limit the amount of time you sit or stand, or suggest a number of short breaks throughout the day.
Your employer is required to exert reasonable effort to accommodate your work restrictions. See the Americans with Disabilities Act (http://www.ada.gov/2010_regs.htm) for more information on this topic.
However, if you find that your employer refuses to work with you to reinstate you to your former employment status, you may have grounds for a workers' compensation lawsuit. Contact a workers' compensation lawyer for legal advice on your case.