Workers in California who have suffered a job-related injury or illness can often obtain workers’ compensation benefits while they recover. These benefits include wage replacement as well as coverage of medical expenses related to the injury or illness. However, what happens if your employment ends while you are still being treated? Can you continue receiving workers’ comp after being fired?
In most cases, the answer to that question is yes. However, there are some circumstances in which your termination will impact the benefits you receive. An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer can help you understand how being fired affects your benefits and may provide services to protect your benefits in this situation.
California law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who file workers’ compensation claims. They can’t fire you or commit other actions such as reducing your pay, transferring you to a less desirable position, or requiring you to use vacation time to attend injury-related medical appointments. Additionally, if your injury results in work restrictions or the inability to perform some aspects of your job, your employer is required to make reasonable accommodations, if possible, to allow you to continue in that position. If no accommodations can be made, you can qualify for job displacement benefits to assist you as you look for another job.
If you feel that your employment termination was a direct result of filing a workers’ compensation claim, it is important to speak with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as possible as these actions can result in a wrongful termination claim against the employer. To prove a wrongful termination claim, your attorney can look at the documentation, including the proximity of the date of your termination and the date of your injury. Other evidence needed to show employer retaliation can include testimony from coworkers or proof of a reduction in pay after a claim was filed.
While California workers’ compensation claimants cannot be fired or otherwise retaliated against for filing a claim, in some circumstances, the behavior that led to the accident in which the on-the-job injury was incurred can result in termination as well as denial of the claim. Workers’ compensation claims can be denied for several reasons, including:
It should be noted that California is considered an “at-will” employment state. What this means is that employers can terminate the employment of a worker for nearly any reason unless they have an employment contract in place. Employers commonly use wrongful conduct at work that leads to the termination of a worker’s employment as a defense if they have been accused of retaliation. Again, an experienced attorney can investigate the details of the termination to determine if evidence exists that shows an employee has been the victim of retaliation.
When someone is injured in a work-related accident, they are required to promptly seek medical treatment (if needed) and report the injury to their employer. There are many reasons for this, including having the best health outcome possible through thorough medical treatment and the quick provision of healthcare services. Additionally, reporting the incident to the employer allows the workers’ compensation claims process to begin. However, if a worker is fired before they’ve reported an injury or filed a claim, their employer and workers’ comp insurer can deny the claim through what is known as the post-termination defense.
There are a few types of evidence that can counter an employer or insurer’s post-termination defense, including a copy of an official written notice provided to the employer that notified them of the injury before the date of termination, medical documentation that shows treatment received for the injury before termination or an injury date that occurred while the worker was still employed.
While receiving workers’ compensation benefits will not protect an employee from being fired or laid off, in most cases, those benefits will continue until they have reached maximum medical improvement and are capable of performing the tasks of a job. In cases of permanent disabilities resulting from a workplace injury, benefits can continue for life.
It is important to understand that benefits are also commonly available for workers who experience what is known as cumulative trauma from their work environment, which refers to injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome that occur not because of a sudden accident but due to repetitive work over time. If an individual incurs cumulative trauma and it is not discovered until after their employment has been terminated or they have left their job, they can still seek compensation as long as they file a claim within the state’s statute of limitations. In California, the statute of limitations for a workers’ compensation claim is typically one year from the date on which the employee became aware of their injury.
While the workers’ compensation program was set up with the intention that injured workers could seek benefits without the need for legal help, in many cases, legal help is crucial. When an employee has been fired while receiving workers’ compensation benefits, there can be a lot of confusion and even some extra steps that need to be taken to ensure that those benefits remain available for the employee in accordance with state law. An attorney can protect your right to receive the workers’ compensation benefits you’re entitled to and help you understand your legal options after being fired.