Sustaining an injury at work could have significant implications for your life. The stress of being out of work, though compensated, weighs on you. You may be physically and mentally focused on recovering, which can be exhausting at times. You may also be concerned about your ability to eventually return to work. Additionally, impatient employers may wrongfully terminate employees who are out on workers’ compensation. Therefore, it is vital to understand the workers’ compensation laws so that you can best protect yourself should you find yourself injured in the workplace.
Termination While on Benefits
The possibility exists that you can be fired while you are out of work. However, there are many complex reasons that surround an employer’s ability to terminate an employee who is on workers’ compensation benefits. The law protects employees from being fired for the sole purpose of being out of work because of an injury, regardless of whether they filed a claim or not. However, there can be mitigating circumstances that could still lead to termination.
California is an “at-will” employment state, which means that both employees and employers can terminate employment at any time for any reason. This may seem unnerving, leaving you constantly worrying about whether you have a job or not. However, an employer still must follow the law when terminating an employee.
When an employee is receiving workers’ compensation, an employer may still terminate them. However, it cannot be because an employee filed a claim—or at least they cannot admit that is the reason. If an employee is fired because they filed a claim, that would be retaliatory, which is illegal. Employers will likely find a way around this by justifying the termination for some other legal reason, including:
- Financial woes of the company
- Organizational restructuring
- Subpar work performance
Notice of Ability
In California, workers’ compensation claims often come with the same processes as a legal trial, which would include an employer hiring lawyers, insurance experts, and consultants whose job it is to investigate your claim. As with any legal proceeding, each side is out to prove that the other is in the wrong and therefore a responsible party who should be held accountable.
In some situations, employers who feel that the employee is exaggerating their circumstances, or can return to work based on their investigation, will serve the employee with a Notice of Ability to Return to Work. This document legally informs the employee that they are expected to return to work in their previous role. However, your employer is not a medical expert and therefore cannot determine your ability to return to work. If you are served a notice, and your doctor clears you for a partial or full return, you should report back to work as instructed. Your employer will likely know that you have been cleared because your medical bills will be sent to them as part of the compensation.
If, however, you decide not to return to work even though you have been medically cleared, you could be terminated for refusal and lose the benefits you have been awarded.
Ignoring Doctor’s Orders
If you are receiving workers’ compensation benefits, your doctor may instruct you to limit activity because of your injury. If you ignore that order, that decision could cost you your job.
During the time you are receiving benefits, employers are legally allowed to hire private investigators to follow you to ensure that you are not taking advantage of the company. For example, if your injury prevents you from going to work, but you are seen entering and leaving a gym to exercise, you may be terminated unless the workout is part of a structured rehabilitation plan.
What Should You Do If You Are Terminated?
If you are terminated while receiving workers’ compensation, you should immediately collect all the evidence you think is relevant to a wrongful termination. Your employer does not have to show justification for your termination; you must prove that the termination was unlawful or retaliatory. It is best to do this with the help of a workers’ compensation attorney.
Q: What Happens If I Get Fired While on Workers’ Comp in California?
A: Employers have the right to terminate employment at any time and for any reason because California is an “at-will” work state. However, there are still legal parameters that prevent employers from terminating because of discrimination or retaliation. This would influence the reason for termination if you are receiving benefits.
Q: Can You Be Fired for a Work Injury in California?
A: In California, you cannot be fired because of the injury itself, as that would be a discriminatory act. However, if the circumstances that caused your injury were due to your own negligence at work that created an unsafe working environment or threatened to harm others, that could be used as justification for your termination.
Q: What Can You Not Do While on Workers’ Compensation in California?
A: While you are receiving workers’ compensation benefits, you should follow the advice of the medical professionals that are treating your injuries. They will help you understand and lay out a recovery plan. Their goal is to help you return to work. Anything you do that violates that plan, such as playing recreational sports with friends or exercising in a public gym, could violate those instructions, and your employer could terminate you.
Q: Does My Employer Have to Hold My Job While on Workers’ Compensation in California?
A: If you are receiving workers’ compensation benefits, your employer must legally hold your job. This is so that, when your benefits are finished and you can return to work, you may do so. If your injury prevents you from returning to the same job, your employer must help you find an accommodating position.
Ontario Workers’ Compensation Lawyers
If you have been injured on the job or feel you have been wrongfully terminated because of an injury you received on the job, you should know your options. Make sure you have an expert and knowledgeable attorney on your side who knows the workers’ compensation laws in California and can help you best understand your legal rights. At Kampf, Schiavone & Associates, our team is ready to fight for you. Contact us today.