Taking time off to recover from your workplace injury or illness is one thing. But if your company fires you after filing a workers’ compensation claim, you may have a valid wrongful termination case. Most state workers’ compensation laws include wrongful termination penalties for companies that retaliate against injured workers. In fact, employers caught doing this may face hefty fines, jail time, or both. But even though retaliation for filing workers’ comp claims is illegal in most states, it’s often hard to prove.
If you file a valid workers’ comp claim and lose your job shortly afterwards, listen up: You may need to sue your employer for wrongful termination.
Filing a Lawsuit If You’re Fired for Reporting Workplace Safety Violations
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has regulations that protect employees from retaliation after reporting unsafe work conditions. But they also detail who can and cannot immediately sue for wrongful termination over a workers’ comp claim.
If you work in any industry listed below, wrongful termination laws should protect you from getting fired for anonymously reporting workplace safety violations:
- U.S. Postal Service
- Private as well as public sector school employees
- Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) as well as their contractors
- Air carriers, contractors, subcontractors
- Employees or individuals that either own or operate pipeline facilities
- Railroad carriers, contractors, subcontractors
- Public transportation agencies, employees, contractors, subcontractors
- Any entity engaged in food manufacturing, processing, packing, transporting, distribution, reception, holding, or importation
- Motor vehicle manufacturers, suppliers, or dealerships
In addition, the same protections should apply for injured employees who file workers’ compensation claims.
Wrongful Termination for Workers’ Comp Claim Filers: Who Else Can Sue?
While OSHA protects those listed above, others can also sue for wrongful termination. However, it may be harder to prove. Here are some suggestions:
- Look up your state’s laws. Workers’ compensation laws are very specific — there’s likely one that pertains to your situation. Most states require WC coverage for employers with even one full-time worker. Check your local laws for wrongful termination clauses.
- Review your employee handbook from Human Resources. The handbook given on your hire date should list disciplinary rules and termination policies. If your employer violates these policies, you may have legal standing to sue for wrongful termination.
- Consider how your employer handles other workers’ comp and termination cases. Has anyone else been fired after filing a workers’ comp claim? If yes, on what grounds? If your employer follows a pattern for retaliation, your case is much stronger.
- Look at the timeline around your claim and termination date. The timeline between when you filed your WC claim and lost your job matters. If your employer has a history of any misconduct prior to your WC claim it will be more difficult to prove. But if you were let go shortly after your injury and claim, you may have a case.
- Was drug testing involved? Back in October 2018, OSHA announced it would no longer tolerate drug testing for retaliatory purposes. It isn’t illegal to drug test anyone hurt on the job. But if employers use it as a threat against employees filing claims, then it is. The agency frowns on mandatory post-accident drug testing for employees claiming workers’ comp benefits.
Related: Your Guide to Federal Workers Compensation Benefits