Getting injured at work can be a traumatic and anxiety-inducing experience. In addition to the pain, medical treatment, and rehabilitation you may be facing, lost work time is stressful—especially if you have a family to support. No worker should have to choose between receiving the medical care necessary to heal properly and preserving his or her source of income.
That’s one reason that California worker’s compensation law provides a means for employees to receive compensation for on-the-job injuries without suing their employers or otherwise raising tensions in the workplace. Worker’s compensation also allows injured employees to receive medical care and compensation for lost work time without proving negligence on the part of the employer. However, worker’s compensation claims can raise a company’s insurance premiums, which means that some employers discourage filing of claims. That leaves some employees uncertain about exercising their rights under California worker’s compensation law.
Fortunately, the worker’s compensation statute provides protection for workers who are penalized for filing a worker’s compensation claim.
At Will Employment and Retaliation in California
Under California law, most employment is presumed to be “at will.” In an “at will” employment situation, either party is generally free to terminate the relationship for any reason or no reason. That creates some confusion for employees concerned about retaliation from their employers.
It’s important for California workers to understand that although employers can generally terminate a working relationship for no reason at all, they cannot terminate an employee for an illegal reason. Some common examples of illegal reasons include racial discrimination, sex discrimination, retaliation for whistleblowing, and age discrimination. Another unlawful reason for termination is the filing of a worker’s compensation claim.
Worker’s Compensation Requirements in California
The California worker’s compensation statute makes it a crime to terminate or otherwise retaliate against an employee for filing a worker’s compensation claim. In fact, these protections may apply even based on other related actions, as well. For example, the employer is also prohibited from retaliating because the employee tells the employer that he plans to file a worker’s compensation claim, fights for a larger worker’s compensation award or settlement, or otherwise exercises his rights under the worker’s compensation statute.
The statute also provides for specific remedies for the wronged employee, including:
• The right to reinstatement
• Reimbursement for lost wages
• Reimbursement for lost employee benefits
• A penalty of up to $10,000
What does California Constitute Retaliation after a Worker’s Comp Claim?
Determining whether an employer’s actions constitute retaliation can be complicated, and is often best undertaken with the assistance of an attorney experienced in both worker’s compensation and wrongful termination claims.
The complication arises because not all changes that the employee dislikes can be classified as retaliation. For example, reassignment to a less desirable position may be retaliatory, but job reassignment may also be a legitimate—or even necessary—response to medical limitations placed on the returning employee by his or her treating physician. Similarly, employers are prohibited from penalizing an employee for lost work time due to an on-the-job injury, but requiring the employee to use accrued sick time for doctor appointments or physical therapy will generally not be considered retaliatory if the same policy is applied to all workers scheduling similar appointments, even if their injuries were not sustained on the job.
Wrongful Termination Relating to Worker’s Compensation Claims
Wrongful termination is a general cause of action that allows a terminated employee to sue an employer that has illegally fired him or her. The California worker’s compensation statute sets forth specific remedies for an employee who is terminated or otherwise penalized for exercising his or her right to worker’s compensation. This type of retaliation generally will not give rise to a wrongful death tort claim.
However, many employees who have been discriminated against on the basis of worker’s compensation claims or other worker’s compensation-related issues may have additional causes of action. Often, these additional claims open up the opportunity to recover more extensive damages. One type of wrongful termination that typically goes hand-in-hand with worker’s compensation retaliation is disability discrimination.
Disability Discrimination in Los Angeles after a Work Injury
Employers who wish to retaliate against an employee who has filed a worker’s compensation claim will often offer what they believe to be a legally acceptable explanation for the termination. For example, an employer is not required to reinstate and employee to a position that is beyond his abilities post-injury or would require him to go against medical advice. However, the employer may be required to offer the worker alternative employment, or to provide accommodation for his or her disability.
Similarly, the employer may not be required to reinstate the employee if there is genuinely no work available. However, a claim that there is no work available for an employee returning after a work-related injury requires careful examination. Often, evidence about the company’s other current hiring practices, staffing level, work volume and more can be used to demonstrate that the justification is false.
Working with a Work Injury Attorney in Los Angeles
If you’ve been terminated or otherwise penalized after a work injury or filing a worker’s compensation claim, you owe it to yourself and your family to learn more about your rights and options. You may be entitled to compensation under the California worker’s compensation statute, compensation for wrongful termination on the basis of disability, or both. Depending on the specifics of your case, there may be other remedies available as well.
However, proving that termination or other actions was retaliatory or discriminatory can be difficult, and often requires significant resources. An attorney who is familiar with both worker’s compensation law and wrongful termination claims can be your best source of information, and best positioned to gather evidence and build a case on your behalf.
Worker’s Compensation Attorney in Los Angeles County
Ideally, you will work with an experienced worker’s compensation attorney from the outset of your worker’s compensation case. This not only helps to ensure that you receive fair compensation for your injuries and promptly receive the medical care you need, but also puts the attorney in a position to monitor the employer’s responses and identify unlawful actions.
However, if your worker’s compensation claim is underway or is complete and your employer is taking or threatening retaliatory action, or is refusing to reinstate you based on a disability caused by your work-related injury, it’s not too late to get help. Schedule a free consultation now to learn more about how you may be able to receive back pay, lost benefits, and other compensation.