Employer Pressure May Unduly Impact Rights After Injury

When it comes to on-the-job injuries, never assume an employer has a worker’s best interests at heart. railroad.jpg

The reality is, companies want to limit their liability in any way possible, and our Rock Hill workers’ compensation lawyers know that this sometimes can mean pressuring employees to avoid filing a claim for benefits – even when those benefits are legitimately owed.

This appears to have been what happened in the recent case of Reed v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. This was a case that carried special complications because the plaintiff worked for a railway company and was a union member.

According to court documents, the plaintiff worked as a trackman for the Norfolk Southern Railway company in the spring of 2009 when he suffered a severe bout of abdominal pain while at work. In the midst of this episode, he claims, his supervisors were reluctant to seek medical treatment for him. Even when they did, he says, they pressured him into signing off on a statement indicating he had not been injured at work.

For seven months after that incident, he was out on medical leave.

Shortly after he returned, company leaders approached him to ask whether he believed that the incident had been related to his work. The worker at this time said that, although he had signed a statement previously indicating it was not work-related, he did in fact believe work played a role in his injury.

In fast response, the company fired him for making inconsistent statements and also for failing to submit a same-day report of on-the-job injuries.

Both the worker and the union believed this action to be contrary to the collective bargaining agreement the union held with the company. The decision was appealed to the arbitration board.

With that claim pending, the worker also filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, alleging the firm had violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act. U.S.C. 20109(a)(4) forbids railway carriers from discriminating against workers who notify or attempt to notify the railroad carrier of a work-related personal injury.

About seven months after the worker filed this lawsuit, the arbitration board concluded, pursuant to the Railway Labor Act, that the worker was improperly dismissed and he was reinstated to his job, though not given back pay.

At that point, the railroad carrier moved for a summary judgment in the FRSA lawsuit, arguing that by arbitrating the grievance, he had chosen his “election of remedies” under 29 U.S.C. 20109(f), which states an employee can’t “seek protection” through both the FRSA and another “provision of law” for the same allegedly unlawful act.

The district court denied the motion, reasoning that the Railway Labor Act is not “law” for purposes of this claim. (This had previously been established in prior case law.)

The appellate court upheld this ruling, but for a different reason, deciding that the worker could not have “sought protection” under the act because its contents are purely procedural. As such, he is free to continue his pursuit of the FRSA action.

Under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, railroad workers can seek compensation for on-the-job injuries or illnesses in the form of:

  • Past and future wage losses;
  • Past and future medical expenses not covered by insurance;
  • Loss of earnings capacity;
  • Physical pain and suffering;
  • Mental and emotional suffering;
  • Scarring or disfigurement;
  • Partial or permanent disabilities.

Before signing anything from your employer relative to whether an injury was job-related, speak first with an experienced injury lawyer.

If you have been injured at work in Rock Hill, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Reed v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., Jan. 7, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh cuit

More Blog Entries
Charlotte Work Injuries Cause Extensive Worker Absence: Report, Dec. 31, 2013, Rock Hill Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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