Can I Be Fired Because I Can’t Work Due to an Injury While Also Receiving Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
If you’ve recently been injured and are unable to return to work, the question of your future finances becomes one you may find yourself thinking about regularly. You may hope to get back to work as quickly as your health can recover, but in some work environments, that may not be quick enough. A common concern for people considering filing a workers’ compensation claim is whether or not they’ll face retaliation at work.
The first thing to know is that it is illegal for any employer to fire an employee for filing a workers compensation claim or getting injured. Unfortunately in states like Florida, where there are no stipulations about reserving an employee’s position at a job after an injury, this restriction is primarily a formality. Ultimately, an employer can let you go or reduce your hours however they see fit, as long as they don’t explicitly say that it’s because of your injury or claim. In fact, they don’t need to provide any explanation at all before making such a change.
Deciding not to file a workers’ compensation claim can be disastrous in the long run, and there’s no guarantee it will help hold your previous position at work anyway. Getting legal help from a seasoned Tampa workers’ compensation lawyer is a good way to cover all your bases and fight for the maximum amount you deserve for your injuries and time away from work. In the case you believe your employer is acting in bad faith and plans to or has terminated your position or retaliated in some other way because of a work-related injury, your best chance for proving it in court is with the help of a local attorney.
Florida, like almost every other state in the US, is an at-will state which means your employer does not need a good reason to fire you, reduce your hours, or change your pay. For any reason or no reason, you can be fired. The only exception that exists is if you sign a work contract that requires you to be fired with cause, which is the case in many salaried positions but not with most wage-earning jobs. Because of this agreement, which you likely signed off on when you first began working, you can expect any extended time away from work to potentially result in your ultimate termination.
Though it’s clear your employer has a lot of power and control over your employment situation, there are some restrictions on employers protecting employees who have had work-related injuries. If you’re receiving workers’ compensation payments, your employer is required to keep you on until you’ve recovered or you’ve reached the Maximum Medical Improvement for your injury. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a paycheck, but simply means if they plan to fire you, they need to wait until you have recovered or reached the maximum level of improvement you can expect for your injuries.
If you recover or you reach a point where you will not recover further, you should talk with your doctor to determine if you’ve got any permanent disabilities. If this is the case, you may be eligible for further disability benefits, which can significantly help with a long-term decreased ability to work.
Once you’re recovered as much as can be expected, your employer can make a decision about your employment. Some employers will try to help you through this difficult transition by offering work that suits your current abilities. They might offer more office work, for instance, if your injury keeps you from more physical labor. But in most at-will work situations, an employer can fire an employee for any or no reason and is not required by law to offer any sort of assistance beyond a reasonable attempt to provide accommodations for you to do your job. If they determine that they’re unable to provide accommodations, they may simply choose to terminate your employment as it might be cheaper and easier for them in the long run.
There isn’t much dramatic difference between the rights of a contract employee and an at-will employee when it comes to work-related injuries. Employers may still not fire a contract employee as retaliation for filing a claim, but if there is no requirement to only terminate the employee with cause, then the protections offered are likely legal formalities easily avoided by an employer.
The biggest difference would likely be any contract stipulations that define reasons an employer may fire an employee. For example, many employment contracts have a section defining a period of time an employer would need to wait should their contracted employee be unable to work. The employer would need to abide by any terms laid out in the contract in order to avoid the chance of a dispute later on. Many employers are also bound by nondiscrimination laws, so if the terminated employee can prove that they were retaliated against or had actions taken against them because of a protected status, which includes some types of disabilities, they may have grounds for a discrimination lawsuit.
Get Legal Help With Your Tampa Workers Compensation Case
In many circumstances, a bad enough injury can mean that you won’t be able to return to the job you were previously working. This can either be due to the severity of your injuries or merely the time away from work you need to take to recover. In one case, the injury may mean you’re physically limited or disabled, and in the other, your employer may need to quickly fill your role. Either way, it would be best to have the maximum amount of money possible coming in until you’re able to find new work.
When you’re dealing with the aftermath of an injury you received due to your work, seek out a Tampa workers compensation attorney with a history of achieving positive outcomes for people in positions like yours. At Darrigo & Diaz, we’ve seen cases of all sorts in over two decades of helping the injured of South Florida. Give us a call at (813) 774-3341 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation today.