Workers’ Compensation Retaliation: Know Your Rights

A West Virginia man recently filed a lawsuit alleging his former employer, a mining company, fired him after he suffered an on-the-job injury and attempted to file for workers’ compensation benefits.
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This kind of action is not unheard of. It’s called workers’ compensation retaliation, and it’s illegal.

Our Asheville workers’ compensation lawyers recognize that while many employers will challenge a claim for benefits, there are those who may seek to prevent workers from filing one at all. There could be a number of reasons for this. They may fear higher insurance premiums. There is also the concern that a high number of claims could draw the attention of state labor officials, leading to possible government sanctions.

N.C. Gen. Stat. 95-241(a) prohibits employer discrimination of a worker for filing a claim or complaint under Chapter 97 of the state general statutes (which is the portion dealing with workers’ compensation benefits). It also disallows retaliatory action for initiating or participating an inquiry, investigation, inspection or proceeding relating to a workers’ compensation claim.

Retaliatory action could be defined several ways, though it is generally an adverse employment action taken against a worker that negatively impacts the terms, conditions, benefits or privileges of employment. It could mean demotion. It could mean suddenly reassigning the worker to a less desirable post without cause. It could mean suspension, harassment or even termination.

Filing a workers’ compensation complaint is considered a form of protected activity per state labor laws, and you should never feel bullied against taking this action.

Employers will often defend these actions by saying the unfavorable outcome was justified, and would have resulted regardless of whether the worker had engaged in the protected activity. This does not mean you won’t be entitled to benefits. Workers who are injured on the job or suffer an ailment arising out of the scope of employment are entitled to be compensated, even if they are later fired.

These cases can be complex, so it’s important to meet with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer before deciding the appropriate course of action.

In the West Virginia case, the worker alleged he was hurt on the job. He asked his employer about how to file a workers’ compensation claim, and was told the company would respond soon. He was then summoned to the office to meet with two supervisors. At that time, he was told his position was no longer needed, and he was being terminated effective immediately.

The worker filed a lawsuit alleging the company violated portions of the state’s Human Rights Act, specifically those relating to disability discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination. In his lawsuit, he characterizes the defendant’s conduct as “extreme and outrageous,” and in violation of the state’s wage payment and collection act, which requires companies to pay outstanding wages within four days of termination.

He is seeking both compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney’s fees.

Because workers’ compensation is considered an exclusive remedy, workers and former workers cannot typically file a civil lawsuit against an employer and also obtain benefits. It’s important to discuss the details of your case with an experienced lawyer who can help clarify the options in your specific case.

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

Additional Resources:
Man alleges mine fired him to avoid workers’ comp claim, Aug. 22, 2014, By April Bamburg, West Virginia Record

More Blog Entries:
State Accident Fund v. SC Second Injury Fund – Reimbursement for “Second Injuries”, Aug. 13, 2014, Asheville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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