What to do if you’ve been fired while receiving workers’ compensation
In North Carolina, you shouldn’t have to wonder or worry about your employment status after reporting a work injury or illness. As an employee, you’re given specific protections under the law that should help you keep your job.
Unfortunately, things don’t always work as they should, and it’s possible for an employer to decide to fire you for retaliatory purposes. In some cases, your employer could also be justified in firing you if your case fits a specific set of criteria.
Knowing your rights as an injured worker in North Carolina helps you avoid becoming a victim of retaliation.
What is employer retaliation?
Employer retaliation refers to negative actions taken by an employer against an employee in response to the employee engaging in protected activities, such as:
- Filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits
- Reporting illegal or unethical practices
- Filing a complaint for discrimination
- Requesting reasonable accommodations
- Participating in an investigation
It’s against federal law for employers to retaliate against workers for asserting any of these legal rights. Unfortunately, in spite of this, some workplaces still violate employment law.
What actions qualify as employer retaliation?
There are many different actions that can be considered employer retaliation. An injured worker who files a workers’ compensation claim can recognize that their employer is retaliating against them if any of the following or combinations of the following occur:
- Firing the employee
- Demoting the employee from their original position
- Suspending the employee
- Unfairly giving the employee a negative performance review
- Transferring the employee to a different department
- Cutting the employee’s salary or benefits
- Reducing the employee’s work hours
- Changing the employee’s work hours to conflict with their non-work responsibilities
- Cutting the employee’s responsibilities or excluding them from projects
- Verbally or physically abusing the employee
- Reporting the employee’s immigration status
- Spreading false rumors about the employee
- Unfairly relocating the employee
- Denying rightful promotions or raises
- Blacklisting the employee
- Denying the employee overtime work
Can I be fired for filing a workers’ comp claim?
Technically, you cannot be fired for filing a claim for workers’ compensation. However, because North Carolina is an at-will employment state, your employer may decide to terminate you for other reasons.
For example, they may legally choose to fire you if you’re no longer able to perform your essential job duties.
Employers must make reasonable efforts to make accommodations to fit an employee’s new abilities so they can keep their job. Or an employer may offer a more suitable position that has similar wages and benefits. If these options aren’t possible, then you could be let go on the basis of your employer no longer being able to find a way to help you continue working in your former position.
What is North Carolina’s Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA)?
North Carolina has a law known as the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA), which protects employees from retaliation from their employer for certain protected situations, such as filing workplace safety complaints. If you’re worried about being fired after filing a workers’ comp claim, you should know that receiving compensation for a work-related injury falls under this protection.
If an employee is fired or their employer takes some other type of retaliatory action against them for trying to file a workers’ compensation claim, that worker can file a REDA complaint. This can be done against a specific individual, organization or government entity.
However, again, your employer could attempt to prove that the firing was warranted based on your behavior or performance on the job.
What employee activities does REDA prohibit employers from retaliating against?
In order to protect your rights, it’s crucial that you understand which employee actions are protected under REDA. An employer cannot retaliate against a worker for performing any of these actions as long as they’re done in good faith:
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim for a work-related injury
- Reporting wage theft
- Reporting discrimination based on genetic information and traits
- Reporting Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations and other unsafe working conditions
- Taking medical leave
- Reporting workplace violence
- Serving as a whistleblower and reporting fraud
- Reporting other illegal activity in the workplace
- Taking time off work due to domestic violence
- Discussing pay with coworkers
When can an employer fire someone who is receiving workers’ comp?
You could legally be fired while receiving workers’ compensation benefits if you’re accused of gross misconduct at work. This sometimes happens when the employer finds evidence during their injured employee’s absence that indicates they weren’t performing their job duties correctly.
If this happens to you, then you may still have a case for a claim against retaliatory firing, depending on the circumstances. Your lawyer can help you determine if the claims of misconduct would hold up in court.
What should I do if I’m pressured to resign?
Sometimes, the issue gets even more complicated when your employer offers you a choice. Some employers try to skate around employment law and worker protections by pressuring an injured employee to resign from their position. Your employer may even offer you a settlement to try to convince you to leave your job quietly and not file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. In this type of situation, it’s important to avoid agreeing to anything before speaking to a lawyer.
Once you accept a settlement or sign a contract, then you could be legally bound to stick to the agreement. This could cause you to miss out on receiving thousands of dollars for your lost wages and medical treatment.
Sadly, many people will agree to resign in hopes that they’ll be more likely to secure a new job in the future. Yet, not having the compensation you need for a full and healthy recovery could leave you struggling to find gainful employment in the future. Even if you believe the accident was partially or fully your fault, you have the right to seek workers’ compensation benefits for your injury without the fear of being fired.
Can I lose my benefits if I get fired while on workers’ comp?
Getting fired after filing a workers’ compensation claim leaves you in the lurch. Your biggest fear is likely to be that you could lose out on all of your benefits. The good news is that in North Carolina, you’re entitled to continue receiving your benefits as long as you’re under doctor’s restrictions and unable to find a job or attend work.
If you’re no longer under doctor’s restrictions and can’t return to work because you were fired for misconduct, then you may lose your benefits. Being fired for misconduct can only happen legally if another employee would have lost their job for the same offense, and it must not have anything to do with your injury.
Once again, this is an area where an employer may try to obscure the truth about what happened, which gives you good cause to seek legal advice that can potentially help you retain your benefits.
Losing your job at the same time that you’re also dealing with a work-related injury is devastating. Not only may you be worried about your ability to work in your former position again, but you must now deal with the potential loss of your income.
What steps should I take if I believe I’ve been wrongfully fired?
If you believe that you were wrongfully fired for getting hurt on the job, then you must act quickly by filing a claim with the North Carolina Department of Labor within 180 days. The Department of Labor will then investigate the claim and provide you with their findings within 90 days.
If the Department of Labor determines that you have a legitimate claim, they will issue you a right-to-sue letter, which will enable you to pursue legal action through a civil lawsuit. At that point, it’s highly recommended that you work with an employment lawyer to help ensure your rights are protected.
What damages or solutions are recoverable if I’ve been wrongfully terminated?
If your employer wrongfully terminated you for filing a workers’ compensation claim, they have violated both federal and state laws. You have the right to file a lawsuit against your employer. If you do this and your lawsuit is successful, there are certain damages you can recover. You may be reinstated to your job and recover compensation for the following:
- Back pay for lost wages and medical benefits
- Future wages and medical benefits
- Pain and suffering, emotional distress and other noneconomic damages
- Punitive damages
- Attorney and court fees
How do I prove wrongful termination after filing for workers’ comp in NC?
Proving wrongful termination after filing for workers’ comp in North Carolina involves demonstrating that your employer fired you primarily because you filed a workers’ compensation claim, which can be challenging. Here are some key steps to build your case:
- Gather evidence. Collect any relevant documentation, such as your workers’ compensation claim, employment records, termination notice and any communication with your employer about the claim or termination. Look for evidence that suggests a link between your workers’ compensation claim and the termination.
- Document timing. Note the timing of your workers’ compensation claim and your termination. A termination that closely follows a compensation claim can sometimes indicate retaliation, particularly if you had a good employment record before filing the claim.
- Record statements. Keep a record of any statements made by your employer or colleagues that might suggest your workers’ compensation claim was a factor in your termination. This includes verbal comments or written communications.
- Evaluate your employment record. Review your employment history for any documented performance issues. If your record was consistently good until you filed for workers’ compensation, it might strengthen your claim of wrongful termination.
- Seek legal assistance. Consult with an attorney who specializes in workers’ compensation and wrongful termination cases. They can provide legal advice, help gather evidence and represent you in legal proceedings.
- File a claim. File a wrongful termination claim with the North Carolina Department of Labor within 180 days of being fired. Your lawyer can guide you through this process.
- Gather witness testimonies. If possible, obtain statements from coworkers or supervisors who can testify to the circumstances surrounding your termination.
- Prepare for defense arguments. Be ready to counter common employer defenses, such as termination due to performance issues or company downsizing unrelated to your workers’ comp claim.
Remember, each case is unique, and wrongful termination claims can be complex. Legal representation is crucial to navigate these challenges and effectively present your case.
Avoiding these common mistakes will help ensure a successful workers’ compensation claim.
How do I minimize my chances of being fired while receiving workers’ comp or working light duty?
To minimize the risk of wrongful termination while receiving workers’ compensation or working light duty, you can take several proactive steps:
- Understand your rights. Familiarize yourself with the workers’ compensation laws in your state. Knowing your legal rights, especially regarding job protection while on workers’ compensation, is crucial.
- Know your company’s policies. Be well-versed in your company’s policies regarding workers’ compensation and light-duty work. Adhering to these policies can help protect you from wrongful termination.
- Keep detailed records. Document everything related to your workers’ compensation claim and any communications with your employer about your injury or work capacity.
- Communicate effectively with your employer. Maintain open and transparent communication with your employer. Keep them updated on your medical status and any changes in your work capacity.
- Perform duties within your restrictions. While on light duty, carefully adhere to the physical or other work restrictions set by your doctor. Avoid activities that could exacerbate your injury or contradict medical advice.
- Show commitment to your job. Demonstrate your commitment to work within your capacity. A positive attitude and willingness to contribute as much as you can help to maintain a good employer-employee relationship.
- Avoid workplace conflicts. Strive to maintain positive relationships with supervisors and colleagues. A supportive work environment can reduce the likelihood of conflicts that might lead to termination.
- Be proactive with return-to-work planning. Engage in discussions about your return-to-work plan. Show your employer that you are eager to return to your regular duties as soon as you are medically cleared.
- Seek legal advice if necessary. If you feel your job might be at risk or if you have concerns about how you’re being treated, consult with a workers’ compensation attorney for guidance.
Remember, while these steps can reduce the risk of wrongful termination, they cannot completely eliminate it. If you believe you are being treated unfairly or are at risk of wrongful termination after filing a work injury claim, it’s advisable to seek legal counsel to understand your options and protect your rights.
Contact an experienced North Carolina workers’ compensation attorney
If you’ve been injured on the job in North Carolina, you have the right to file a workers’ comp claim to cover medical expenses and lost wages while you recover. If your employer retaliates against you for exercising your legal right to benefits after an injury, they can and should be held accountable.
If you believe that you’ve been wrongfully fired, then take action right away. Contact an experienced Charlotte workers’ compensation lawyer at Wilder Pantazis Law Group. We know North Carolina’s workers’ compensation and employment laws inside and out, and we can help you determine if you’re a victim of retaliatory firing.