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Can You Be Fired While on Workers’ Compensation in Seattle?

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    Can You Be Fired While on Workers’ Compensation in Seattle?

    Workman’s compensation is intended to provide medical care and lost wages provision for people hurt at work. But what happens when someone is injured at work, then fired? Many people wonder, "can you be fired while on workers’ comp;" the answer is yes, but you can't be fired because you filed a workers’ comp claim.

    If you’ve been fired while on workers’ comp, you can fight it. A Washington State employer cannot fire you based on your claim alone. Contact Lehmbecker Law for answers to can a company fire you while on workers’ comp and your legal options.

    Your Employee Classification Determines Your Job Protections

    Whether your job is “at will” or contracted provides the answer to “Is my job protected while on workers’ comp?” At-will employees may be terminated at any time, without reason, including being terminated while on workers’ comp. You're likely at will if you don’t know your employment classification.

    At-Will Employees

    Washington is an “at-will” state, meaning an employer is not required to give warnings or follow specific steps prior to terminating an employee. If an employer can demonstrate a legitimate reason for termination, they are legally allowed to do it at any time.

    Employers may terminate at-will employees for several legitimate reasons after filing workers’ comp:

    • Poor work performance, spotty attendance, or violating company policy;
    • Company restructuring that eliminates their job position;
    • Layoffs due to financial reasons.

    If you filed a workers’ comp claim, your employer might have a motive for ending your employment, but your employer cannot fire you specifically because of the workers’ compensation claim, or they may face a lawsuit for retaliation or unfair termination.

    However, many employers may look for any other legal reason to fire you, which is why collecting your performance reviews and disciplinary documents are so essential.

    Contracted Employees

    what happens if i get fired while on workers' comp

    Terminating an employee on workers' compensation in WA is a little more complicated if the individual is a contract worker. Most contract workers are union employees, and unions have agreements with employers to prevent employees from being fired without just cause.

    Does workers’ comp protect your job if you’re a union employee? No, but your contract might. The employer must document specific reasons for terminating employees.

    There is one caveat to whether can you get fired while on workers’ comp. If your contract states you will be dismissed if unable to work for a given period of time, and your injury keeps you out of work, you may be fired.

    What is Washington State Law on Workers' Compensation?

    Washington State law is very specific about terminating an employee on workers’ compensation after a serious work-related injury. There is no mistaking the law in this matter. It is against Washington workers’ compensation law to fire an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim. The language is very specific:

    No employer may discharge or in any manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed or communicated to the employer an intent to file a claim for compensation or exercises any rights provided under this title. …

    However, this does not mean a person can’t be fired while a workers’ compensation claim is open.

    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides additional safeguards through the Whistleblower Protection Program if a workplace injury is due to unsafe working conditions. Companies may not take an “adverse action” against an employee for filing a claim against the employer over unsafe conditions.

    While this claim is separate from a workers’ compensation claim, it does provide additional federal backing for an employee injured because of a potential OSHA violation.

    Possible Reasons for Being Laid Off While on Workers' Comp

    If you were fired on workers’ comp, it feels very unfair. You’re understandably upset and thinking, “I got hurt at work, and they fired me?” But companies make business decisions, and how can you get fired for being on workers’ comp could include:

    • Company layoffs due to financial reasons;
    • Restructuring that eliminated your position;
    • Your poor performance at your job duties;
    • Attendance violations unrelated to your workers’ comp claim;
    • Failure to follow workplace safety standards.

    If you have never had a negative performance review or disciplinary documentation, you may have cause for a retaliation lawsuit.

    What Happens If I Get Fired While on Workers' Comp?

    If you've been fired while receiving workers' comp benefits for a work-related injury, you may ask, “Can I still get workers’ comp if I get fired?” Your workers' compensation insurance benefits from the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company do not end with your employment termination, whether you were fired or laid off.

    You may still wonder how can you collect workers’ comp after being fired. Washington law requires that you continue to receive treatment until you reach maximum medical improvement and lost wages benefits while you heal.

    You will continue receiving workers' compensation benefits for treatment until your doctor determines you’ve achieved maximum medical improvement.

    Can a job fire you while on workers’ comp? Yes, and if it was for cause, you would not get lost wage reimbursement.

    Can You Be Terminated While on Workers’ Comp with Work Restrictions from the Doctor?  

    Workers’ compensation laws require employers to make reasonable efforts to accommodate work restrictions once the doctor clears them to return to work. These accommodations could include providing a different job, for example, although the employer isn’t obligated to match your pre-injury wage if you switch positions.

    If you turn this accommodation down, it could be a reason for being laid off while on workers' comp.

    You can still be fired after returning from workers’ comp if they cannot accommodate the work restrictions recommended by your treating physician. For example, there may be no alternative position available, or you may not be qualified for positions that fit your work restrictions.

    If you’re back to work in an alternative position, and the company structure or financial position changes, they could eliminate your new position or reduce workers, starting with the people with the least seniority in their position.

    That’s one example of how can a person be laid off while on workers' comp, and it’s within an employer’s rights to do so. If you were not fully healed when you were let go, though, you may still collect benefits from workers' compensation insurance.

    Can I Get Fired for Getting Hurt at Work and Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim?

    People may hesitate to report work-related injuries because they fear being fired for filing workers’ comp. But as worried as you may be, your employer is not allowed to fire you for filing a claim.

    However, even though the answer to "can an employer fire you for a work-related injury" is no, they may still find a way around it. Ask yourself:

    • How soon after your claim were you fired?
    • What was your employer’s reaction to the claim — were they angry or annoyed?
    • Did your supervisor or employer try to talk you out of filing a claim?
    • Is your manner of firing usual in your workplace?
    • Were you the only employee let go or the only one with your job title released?
    • What were the employer’s stated reasons for firing you?

    The answers to these questions may indicate that you are fired for being hurt, but the employer is trying to avoid giving the impression that they're letting you go due to your workers' compensation claim.

    Do I Have Grounds for a Retaliation Claim or Lawsuit?

    i got hurt at work and they fired me

    If you were fired during workers’ comp claim, you might have grounds to file a lawsuit against your employer. Being fired while on workers’ compensation without any other reason provided may be viewed as retaliation, but you will need to collect a lot of documentation for your lawyer to build a case for retaliatory termination.

    First, you’re entitled to a written statement from your employer stating why you were terminated, which the employer must provide within 10 days of your request. Keep it with other documentation of your dismissal, including:

    • Correspondence about the treatment for your workers’ comp claim;
    • Copies of all performance reviews;
    • Copies of any disciplinary actions, including performance and absenteeism;
    • Notes of what transpired in any meetings with your employer regarding your injury.

    You have a limited window of time to file a retaliation lawsuit, just three years from the date of your dismissal.

    Can I Be Fired While on Workers’ Comp? Proving Wrongful Termination

    If you file a lawsuit claiming that you were fired for workers’ comp claim, you and your lawyer will need to prove four things:

    • You were employed by the company and entitled to workers’ comp benefits;
    • You filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits;
    • You were laid off or fired after you filed the claim;
    • The employer fired you or laid you off because you filed the claim.

    These are not easy to do. Employers know the law just as well as your Washington wrongful termination lawyer and may come up with another legal reason to explain your termination, especially for at-will employees, if you asked, "can you be fired while on workers comp?"

    Don’t worry if you didn’t start gathering information right after your workers' comp claim; just make notes of everything you remember and give them to your lawyer.

    Contact an Experienced Washington Workers’ Compensation Lawyer

    If you are still asking, "can you get workers’ comp if fired?" we can help. You need good legal advice, and an experienced workers' compensation attorney will answer your questions about wrongful termination and workers' comp settlement and provide you with options.

    If you feel you’re not getting the right compensation from the insurance company for your workplace injury or have been treated unfairly regarding your open workers’ compensation claim in Washington State, contact Lehmbecker Law for a free consultation with a Washington workers’ compensation attorney.

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    Larry A. Lehmbecker
    Firm Founder, Larry Lehmbecker, has nearly 40 year’s of experience fighting for the injured in Washington State. He is always eager to share his knowledge to help those in need.
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