Frequently Asked Questions - Can You be Fired for Being Injured on the Job?
Florida law is clear that an injured worker cannot be fired for being injured on the job. Section 440.205, Florida Statutes states, “No employee shall discharge, threaten to discharge, intimidate, or coerce any employee by reason of such employee’s valid claim for compensation or attempt to claim compensation under the Workers’ Compensation Law.”
While this would have no relationship to a work related accident or injury, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Florida Civil Rights Act also protect individuals from being discriminated against because of their race, color, sex, age, religion, disability, or national origin.
If you are fired following a workers’ compensation claim, you should immediately consult with an attorney specializing in Employment Law claims, especially if you believe you were fired for no cause or specifically related to your on the job accident/injury to discuss your options and determine if you have a case. Similarly, you should speak to an Employment Law attorney if you believe you fall into one of the protected groups stated above and believe that you were terminated because of discrimination.
It is often difficult to prove why a person was terminated. If there are emails or other written documentation establishing that you were, in fact, terminated because of your workers’ compensation claim, you would likely have an excellent wrongful termination case. This is rare. In many instances, other potentially reasonable explanations are given for the termination. For example, you are laid off along with other workers. Or, you are terminated with the employer claiming poor work performance or other work-related issues.
Typically, the more documentation you have in support of your position, the better. If you worked for an employer for many years and are suddenly fired claiming poor work performance, many questions will surface. Did the employee have other issues in the past? If you were an exemplary employee for many years and this is documented in your employment file, this would be helpful to your argument. On the other hand, if you were terminated during your 90-day probationary period or have been reprimanded, disciplined, or written up in the past, this could potentially work against you.
In many workers’ compensation cases, an injured worker is not terminated, but feels like they are being treated differently by their employer in some way. Perhaps you are now being written up for things that were never an issue before. Perhaps you feel like you are being harassed to return back to work before you are ready to do so. In other situations, you may be given a different type of job that you do not want to perform or given different hours or work at a different location. Or, you are paid at a lower rate or work fewer hours. In this particular example, you may be entitled to some lost wages from workers’ compensation if you are earning at least 80% of your pre-accident earnings through no fault of your own.
In some situations, the employer may be genuinely attempting to provide work within your restrictions or work with you in an amicable manner. In other situations, it may feel like the employer is trying to “get rid of you”. Please understand that without clear-cut evidence that your employer is purposely singling you out due to your workers’ compensation case, it is extremely difficult to prove in court. And, if you intend to settle your workers’ compensation case for a lump sum amount of money at some point, it would require you to agree to separate your employment with the employer anyway. Thus, there are many situations where it may be beneficial to seek new employment following a work-related accident. A common misconception is that an injured worker must continue to work for the same employer after a work-related accident or injury to pursue workers’ compensation benefits. This is simply not true.
In many workers’ compensation cases, your employer may claim they are unable to accommodate your work restrictions. This is not the same as being terminated. When your authorized doctor assigns work restrictions or limitations, your employer has the right to offer you work within your limitations. If so, you would not be entitled to lost wage checks since work is being offered within your limitations. If they don’t have work available, you would be entitled to lost wage checks until your doctor places you on a full duty work status, places you at MMI (Maximum Medical Improvement) or your employer later offers you work within your limitations.
Please understand that once you are placed at MMI, your authorized doctor may also assign permanent work restrictions. If you have permanent work restrictions that would prevent you from performing the job you were hired to do, your employer has the right to legally let you go. In other words, let’s say you were hired to work in a job that required you to lift up to 50 pounds. Your authorized doctor ultimately places you at MMI with permanent work restrictions of no lifting more than 20 pounds. In this situation, your employer may let you go claiming that they cannot accommodate your permanent limitations. This is different than being fired for being injured at work and your employer does have the right to do so. They could also try to accommodate your restrictions although they are not legally required to do so. If you lose your job and suffered a catastrophic type of injury that results in you being unable to return to work in any capacity, you would have the potential to pursue a Permanent and Total Disability claim which would entitle you to lost wage benefits until age 75 or death, whichever comes first.
If you suffer a serious injury at work, you should strongly consider consulting with a workers’ compensation attorney as early in the process as possible. Again, be proactive. If you believe that your injuries may ultimately prevent you from performing your former job or the type of work you typically perform, don’t wait until you are terminated to speak to an attorney about your options.