Firing an employee specifically because they asked for workers’ comp benefits is illegal. You should consider talking to a workers’ compensation attorney if your employer threatens to fire you––or terminates you entirely.
However, if an employer has a valid reason for wanting to fire an employee—for example, the employee was engaging in illegal behavior—then yes, an employer can terminate an employee while on workers’ comp.
What Is Workers’ Comp?
Workers’ comp is a no-fault-based program that allows employees to seek benefits after suffering a job-related injury or illness. This program is available to most California employees regardless of their age, position, or legal status. Only employees can qualify for these benefits; contractors are not eligible.
Per the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), workers’ compensation benefits generally offer:
- Healthcare coverage
- Disability benefits
- Supplemental job displacement benefits
If you suffered injuries at work, you have the right to file a claim for these benefits without fear of retaliation. The DIR states that employers cannot legally fire their employees based on filing a workers’ compensation claim alone. They must have valid reasons that support a worker’s dismissal.
Why Employers Might Terminate Employees on Workers’ Comp
Reasons why an employer might legally terminate an employee while on workers’ comp include the following:
- The employee is so badly injured that they will never again be able to perform the tasks their position requires of them.
- The employee was doing subpar work prior to their injury, or the employee had repeatedly broken company rules.
- The employer restructured the company and eliminated the employee’s position.
- The employee’s position was temporary, and the employer would have terminated them even if the injury had not happened.
- The employer can no longer afford to keep the employee on payroll.
If one or more of the above circumstances applies to your case, then your employer can terminate you, even while you are still on workers’ comp.
That said, it is important to recognize that employers are not always honest about why they “let someone go.” They may give what sounds like a valid and legal rationale for ending your employment, when in reality, they are firing you because:
- You were injured while on the job, even if the injury was not your fault.
- You filed a claim for workers’ comp benefits.
- You and your employer disagree about how much you deserve in benefits.
Finding Proof of Why Your Employer Terminated You Unfairly
It is one thing to have a strong suspicion about why your employer fired you. Proving that suspicion is another matter.
If you have reason to believe you were fired illegally while on workers’ comp, you may want to hire a workers’ compensation lawyer to investigate your case. An attorney can uncover the real reason for your termination by reviewing:
- Statements from you, your employer, anyone who witnessed the accident, and any other relevant parties
- Prior complaints made against your employer (for example, have they been accused of mistreating injured employees before?)
- Your own employment record (for example, if you were generally known to be a capable and responsible worker, this could weaken any claims of misconduct or poor performance made against you)
- Any footage that shows the accident or its aftermath, including video footage from surveillance cameras or photos taken with a cell phone
- Communications between you and your employer, including voicemails, texts, or emails
An attorney can also help establish the amount and types of benefits you deserve. This would prevent your employer’s insurer from shortchanging you by offering insufficient benefits.
What if My Termination Was Unlawful?
If you and your attorney can prove that your employer illegally fired you, you have the option of filing a lawsuit against your employer. A lawsuit would require you to:
- Notify your employer, their insurer, and the relevant court about your lawsuit
- Figure out how much to sue for—in other words, what amount of money would cover all you have suffered and lost due to the unlawful termination?
- Find out if your employer is willing to offer a settlement to reimburse you for lost wages, medical care, and other injuries
- Negotiate with your employer or their insurer for a fair settlement offer
- Take your case to trial and present your case in a courtroom, if you are unable to secure a satisfactory settlement for any reason
Your lawyer may or may not be able to help you with these tasks; some only handle workers’ compensation cases, while others handle both workers’ comp and personal injury cases. It’s wise to ask a law firm about what kinds of cases it manages from the beginning, especially if you are interested in filing both a workers’ comp claim and a personal injury case.
How to File for Workers’ Comp
You have the legal right to ask for—and receive—workers’ compensation benefits after a workplace injury without fearing retaliation. You can hire a lawyer immediately after the injury occurs to help you through the application process and explain your rights.To start the application process, fill out the appropriate claim form. Your employer should give this to you, but if they do not, you can get your own copy from the DIR’s website. After that, you can:
- Start receiving medical care even before the insurer processes your claim
- Wait for the insurance company’s decision on what benefits you get
- Talk to your attorney about the different ways your case may go
- Evaluate your legal options if the insurer or your employer denied benefits
Were You Terminated While on Workers’ Comp?
Call (818) 507-8525 to get in touch with the KJT Law Group today. An employer cannot terminate an employee simply for being on workers’ comp. You have a right to seek legal advocacy from our lawyers, who can prove you were illegally fired and protect your rights.