These days, most people struggle to make ends meet. When workers are injured while on the job, one of their first worries is usually how their injury will affect their employment.
Workers compensation Florida law protects employees against unlawful termination related to their workers’ compensation claim. Unfortunately, certain employers find a way to use an on-the-job injury as an excuse to get rid of a worker.
If you believe you were terminated in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim, keep reading. This article will answer in detail whether an employer can fire you if you’re away on workers’ compensation.
Florida Is Considered an “At-Will Employment” State
Like most of the country, Florida is an “at-will” state when it comes to employment. This means that you can resign from work at any time, but your employer can also fire you at their will. In other words, you are an employee at the discretion of your employer, who has the legal right to terminate your job at any moment unless a contractual agreement restricts the employer’s right to fire you.
Generally, courts have ruled that employee handbooks are contracts between employers and workers. In some cases, courts will order an employer to undertake a pre-termination process, such as a progressive disciplinary action, before firing an employee. However, in most situations, employers call the shots when hiring and firing.
The “at-will” status of employees is unaffected by the fact that they were injured at work when applying this doctrine to such cases. Employees who have been injured and can no longer do their tasks might be terminated then replaced by their employers.
In a nutshell, Florida law does not prevent your employer from firing you if you were injured at work and claim workers’ compensation. However, there is one thing your employer isn’t allowed to do: They cannot dismiss you in retaliation for pursuing a workers’ compensation claim.
Protection Against Retaliation in the Workplace
It’s an unfortunately common scenario: A worker gets hurt on the job and files for workers’ compensation benefits; a month or two later, the boss says the company is struggling financially and needs to make some cuts. Oh well, the boss says, sorry for the bad timing!
Under Florida Statutes Section 440.205 – coercion of employees – employers can’t fire a worker for filing a claim for workers’ compensation in Florida. This is also called “retaliation” and is prohibited under state law. Retaliation is defined as any detrimental action performed by an employer against an employee in response to measures undertaken by the latter. It encompasses a wide range of acts aside from claiming workers’ compensation, such as speaking out against harassment, unlawful activity, and refusal to work in dangerous conditions.
However, this statute doesn’t guarantee you complete protection. Employers are not required by Florida law to keep a worker’s position reserved while they are recovering from a work-related injury. Your employer can still fire you for a variety of different reasons.
As a result, many employers take advantage of this loophole. If you’re fired because you filed a workers’ compensation claim, they’ll just give you some other reason. For example, they’ll say that the timing is coincidental.
Nevertheless, in most cases, the employer’s insurance company must keep paying temporary partial disability or total disability benefits, even after the employer terminates the worker’s employment. You are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, even if you were responsible for the accident that caused your injuries.
Workers’ compensation will continue to pay you even if you’ve been fired without cause, so keep that in mind. This is an insurance plan, and as such, it is designed to cover you in the event that your employment is abruptly ended. Workers’ compensation may be denied if you are terminated for cause, however.
How To Prove Retaliation in the Workplace
This is the tricky part. Florida courts have ruled that a worker must prove three things to have legal standing to bring a retaliation case against an employer.
- The existence of a statutorily protected expression
- An adverse employment action
- A causal connection between the statutorily protected expression and the adverse employment action
The Florida Third District Court of Appeal explained each of these elements in Russell v. KSL Hotel Corp. in 2004.
Element 1: The Statutorily Protected Expression
The first element, the existence of a statutorily protected expression, is the filing of a workers’ compensation claim.
In some cases, however, Florida courts have held that a worker doesn’t necessarily have to file a claim to be unlawfully terminated.
In some cases, it’s enough that the employer knew the worker was going to file a claim.
Element 2: An Adverse Employment Action
Proving the second element, an adverse employment action, is usually straightforward since the worker has been fired. It’s worth noting, however, that retaliation can take many forms.
For example, an employer might retaliate by harassing the worker for filing a claim or forcing the worker to perform menial jobs as a punishment for filing.
Element 3: A Causal Connection
The third element is frequently the most difficult to establish.
To prove a causal connection between the filing of the workers compensation claim and the worker’s termination, the worker must show that the employer knew about the workers compensation claim and ended the worker’s employment because of it.
Once the worker can prove this initial connection, the burden shifts to the employer to show it terminated the worker for some other reason, such as excessive absenteeism, poor job performance, or some other valid reason.
Fight Back Against Employer Retaliation
Many employees are afraid to pursue workers’ compensation claims for fear of their employers’ retaliation. However, this should not discourage anyone. When employees are injured or ill as a result of their work, they should not be prevented from receiving workers compensation benefits.
If you believe your employer fired you because you filed a workers compensation claim, you deserve justice. However, proving employer retaliation is not easy. Give yourself a fighting chance by working with a workers compensation lawyer from Sternberg | Forsythe, P.A. Don’t let an employer get away with breaking the law.