What is workers’ compensation?
Workers’ compensation provides no-fault insurance benefits to employees who suffer injuries or illnesses as a result of job-related incidents. Under the workers’ compensation system, employees or their dependents are entitled to medical treatment as well as compensation for lost wages arising from a work-related injury, illness, or death.
Workers are covered for injuries or diseases that are caused or aggravated by job-related tasks, regardless of any pre-existing physical condition – or fault. Lost wages are paid to an injured worker during any period of rehabilitation and if permanent disability results from a work-related injury.
Most employers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania are mandated by law to provide workers’
compensation coverage to employees.
Under workers’ compensation systems, when a worker is injured on the job and files for workers’ compensation benefits, the worker is precluded from bringing a lawsuit against his or her employer for those injuries. That balance was created by law for the benefit of both employer and employee — employees should not hesitate to assert their workers’ compensation rights. If a worker is discouraged from filing a claim or otherwise declines to do so, the employer receives all the benefit of the statutory protections with none of the responsibilities.
Can you be fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim?
Workers’ compensation statutes prohibit discrimination or retaliation against a worker for filing a claim for workers’ compensation, whether or not the claim is approved. Therefore, an employer cannot fire a worker or take other adverse employment action against the worker – or threaten to do so – based on the worker’s exercise of his or her rights under workers’ compensation law.
Discrimination or retaliation can involve a reduction in pay or hours, reassignment, denial of employee benefits, demotion, or termination of employment. Discrimination or retaliation can also occur when an employer interferes, or attempts to interfere, with the employee’s right to workers’ compensation by dissuading, threatening, or attempting to coerce the worker to refrain from filing a claim. Retaliation can also occur during the hiring process if an employer refuses to hire a job applicant based on a prior workers’ compensation claim.
Fear of job loss or other negative employment action should not discourage an employee from exercising his or her rights under workers’ compensation law.
How can an injured employee know whether he or she has a retaliation claim?
To show retaliation or discrimination under workers compensation law, the employee must have attempted to exercise his or her rights. However, it is not necessary for the employee to file a formal workers’ compensation claim.
Rather, first, an employee must show that he or she sought medical treatment for a work-related injury. If the employer later retaliates against the worker, the employee must show that the employer was aware of the worker’s attempt to exercise his or her right to workers’ compensation benefits. Ideally, the worker should file an incident report as soon as possible following the work-related injury. This would show the employer’s awareness of the worker’s attempt to claim workers’ compensation. The worker should keep records of any medical treatment sought for the injury.
There are time limits within which a worker must file a retaliation claim based on workers’ compensation laws.
In addition to protections provided under workers’ compensation law, state and federal discrimination and family leave laws may protect a worker from being discriminated against due to a work-related injury.
If your employer retaliated or discriminated against you for filing a workers’ compensation claim, or discouraged you from filing a claim, you should seek advice from an experienced employment lawyer.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael Murphy
Michael Murphy is the founding member of Murphy Law Group, LLC, in Philadelphia. Murphy Law Group represents residents of both Pennsylvania and New Jersey who are involved in employment-related disputes with their employers.
Murphy is known for his quality, client-focused representation in all matters pertaining to employment law, including discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wage and hour violations. He has extensive experience in bringing class-action lawsuits and has successfully recovered millions of dollars in unlawfully denied compensation.