Pink Slips and Workers’ Comp

Generally, an employer is not allowed to retaliate against an injured worker just because he or she files a workers’ compensation claim. This includes all sorts of retaliation — demoting, firing, switching to an unfavorable shift, and denying raises and promotions. But beware, injured workers! That does NOT mean the filing of a workers’ compensation claim amounts to a bullet-proof vest protecting you against getting fired or demoted. Even after filing a workers’ compensation claim, you must continue following the employer’s rules and policies, or you may end up with a pink slip.

Just this month, an injured worker who had filed for workers’ compensation benefits was punished for allegedly being dishonest about his workers’ compensation injury. According to the July 2, 2019 Court of Appeals case Atkins v. Town of Wake Forest, a police officer, Brandon Atkins, had filed a workers’ compensation claim, claiming he could not tolerate heat while riding his police motorcycle. However, the employer developed suspicions about the claim and hired an investigator, who videotaped Mr. Atkins for 12 hours riding many rides at Disney World in Florida. When the employer fired Mr. Atkins for violating their policy of honesty, Mr. Atkins filed a claim for retaliatory discharge. He claimed the employer was retaliating against him for filing a workers’ compensation claim. The employer responded that the firing was due to dishonesty, which it claimed it never tolerated in the workplace.

The Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (“REDA”) states that an employee may not be punished for electing to exercise his or her lawful rights as an employee, including the filing of a workers’ compensation claim. However, if the employer can show a non-discriminatory reason for the firing (and that reason is more than just a pretext), then the employer is permitted to fire the worker if the firing was not caused by the workers’ compensation claim. For example, if a worker shows either that the firing occurred shortly after the workers’ compensation claim filing or that the employer had a pattern of retaliating against workers’ compensation claimants, then the court may find that the firing was related to the workers’ compensation claim.

In Mr. Atkins’ case, the employer did not fire him until four months after he filed the workers’ compensation claim. The court found four months to be enough time to show that there was no “temporal relationship.” Plus, according to the court opinion, the chief of police had a strong policy disfavoring dishonesty within his police force. In fact, the chief allegedly had fired every officer in the past who had lied on duty. Based on this information, the court ruled in favor of the employer that the firing was fine, because it was not “retaliatory.”

Mr. Atkins’ case is just one of many where workers’ compensation claimants wrongly expect their workers’ compensation claim to protect them from being fired. If you have been injured on the job and have returned to work for the same employer, don’t worry – the law protects you from true retaliation. But continue to be a good worker; the law may not protect you if you break the rules. If you have a question about your workers’ compensation case, contact Ricci Law Firm.

Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Serving Greenville and Raleigh

I’m Brian Ricci, a workers’ compensation lawyer serving Greenville and Raleigh. If you or a loved one has sustained an injury at work, please call me at (252) 777-2222 for free, friendly advice.

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