Employers aren’t allowed to retaliate against you for claiming workers compensation. The law also prevents them from discriminating against you on the basis of your new disability.
This does not mean you have air-tight protections against getting fired. Indeed, there are several mistakes you can make which will make it easy for your employer to terminate you.
Mistake #1: Failing to Comply With Employer Policies
For most workers compensation benefits the lack of compliance comes from a failure to follow bureaucratic process.
Some employees assume that their employer “already knows” they’re being treated for injuries and that they cannot return to work yet. In truth, you’re required to check in and provide doctor’s notes just as you would be required to check in for regular sick days.
If the doctor says you cannot work for three months you can bring that documentation to your employer and you should be safe. However, you have to bring a new doctor’s note if your doctor extends that time. Many employees make the mistake of assuming the employer knows they’ll be returning to work, or assume that their verbal notification of the doctor’s decision will be enough.
Protect yourself with every bit of documentation you can get. Make sure every doctor’s note that bars you from working is on file with your employer as soon as you receive it. Otherwise your employer will be able to fire you for being a no-show.
Mistake #2: Failure to Report on an Ability to Return to Duty
Your employer has to make reasonable accommodations if they can, which can mean offering you a light duty position in line with the doctor’s recommendations as soon as the doctor clears you to return to work.
Some workers believe accepting light duty it optional, but it is not. If the doctor says you can do it and the employer offers it, you have to return if you want to keep your job.
Some employers are better about offering light duty options than others. In some cases you could be much better off working, because you would get your regular 40 hour workweek with your regular pay.
If you don’t agree that the work you’ve been offered complies with your doctor’s instructions it’s a good idea to call a workers compensation attorney right away.
At Will Means At Risk
Employment contracts offer additional protections, but most people don’t have them. Most people are at-will employees, which means they can be fired or laid off for any legal reason. This can include performance issues or financial reasons.
The employer can also claim they don’t have a job for you given your medical restrictions. They are not obliged to create a position for you if that’s the case.
In this you are no worse off than you were before your injury. Employers could fire you for any legal reason before you filed workers compensation. Indeed, they’re more at-risk for being sued now, as you at least have a “cause of action” defense to claim they’re firing you for claiming workers compensation.
Still, you want to do anything you can to make yourself a risky person to fire. Avoid performance issues and keep the lines of communication open.
And remember: consulting a workers compensation lawyer before you make any sudden moves is the best way to protect both your ability to stay employed, and your benefits.