We received this question from a reader: “If I’m hurt on the job, can my employer fire me for putting in a workers’ comp claim?”
The short answer to this question is an emphatic no: An employer cannot fire an employee for filing a workers’ comp claim. Per federal EEOC regulations, that’s illegal retaliation.
Can They Fire Me If I Work in an At-Will State?
The rules that determine unlawful termination vary from state to state. Most states are at-will states, meaning that an employer can fire an employee for any lawful reason, and an employee may quit at any time.
For example: An employer can terminate an employee who receives excellent reviews and even salary raises because the company wants to cut costs. That same employer can fire someone because they’ve reorganized the office and have one less desk. The reason doesn’t have to make sense.
But an employer cannot fire based on discrimination (if the employee is gay, for example) or because the employee exercised a legal right. Filing a workers’ comp claim is a legal right. Therefore, it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee for filing a workers’ comp claim.
Employees Are Entitled to A Safe Workplace
In addition to protection from termination for discriminatory reasons or because you exercised a legal right, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has regulations in place to keep workplaces as safe as possible. This is an important safeguard to protecting as many people as possible, and in preventing unsafe situations that might result in necessary workers’ comp claims.
According to OSHA regulations, your employer must provide a safe workplace. This includes, among other things:
- Maintaining equipment so it is safe
- Providing protection from harmful chemicals
- Receiving health and safety training in a language you understand
OSHA regulations further state that if conditions are unsafe, employees should report those conditions. While OSHA advises that you should tell your employer about these issues, it also provides whistleblower protection to safeguard you, should you need it.
Can They Fire Me for Reporting Workplace Safety Violations?
It is illegal for an employer to retaliate in any way against an employee who reports unsafe working conditions. This includes termination, demotion, and transfers. If you report unsafe working conditions and think you’re being retaliated against, you have 30 days to file a whistleblower complaint.
What About Workers’ Comp and Retaliation?
If you have an on-the-job injury, then you might qualify for workers’ compensation. Workers’ comp can provide benefits for lost wages, medical expenses, or benefits for dependents when a parent or legal guardian dies from a job-related hazard.
Your state agency handles all workers’ comp claims, not the federal government. However, qualifying for workers’ comp means you must:
- Be an employee of a company that carries workers’ comp insurance,
- Injured while on the job, and
- Meet your state’s other legal requirements (i.e., notifying your supervisor immediately about your injury/illness, seek medical attention, etc.).
What Qualifies as Retaliation?
The EEOC prohibits retaliation against an employee who files a workers’ comp claim. That means your employer cannot fire you for it. But what other ways might an employer retaliate?
They might make the workplace an unpleasant place for you. Or, they may start to criticize your work more often. Your performance reviews might suffer, or your employer might become hostile. They might start monitoring or surveilling you more than they did before you filed a workers’ comp claim.
Any of those actions, or other actions that punish you for filing a workers’ comp claim, are illegal. Understanding your rights in the workplace and knowing when and how to sue can be difficult. We recommend consulting an experienced workers’ comp attorney that knows the labor laws in your state.
Still have questions about your protections under the law or whether your employer did something illegal? A free consultation can help you understand if you have a case. Remember that every workers’ comp lawyer works on contingency. This means you pay nothing up front. Then, you only pay a fee if your case is successful.
Ready to get experienced legal help with your workers’ comp claim? Click the button below now to sign up for a free, no-obligation phone call from an attorney today!
Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.