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“We’ll Make Him Pay!”: Retaliation in the Workplace and Workers’ Compensation in Pennsylvania

Some bosses just don’t get it.

Even though they know that paying for workers’ compensation insurance is mandatory in Pennsylvania, they resent having to mail off the premium every three months. Instead of recognizing that this is a fundamental bargain between labor and management, enforced by the Commonwealth, they see it as the workers taking unfair advantage and claiming part of the business’s money as their own.

Anger is always close to boiling over for business owners like this. When an employee gets hurt on the job, such bosses see it as a deliberate attempt to take time off and collect paychecks at the same time. It can permanently change the relationship between the boss and his employee. When the worker has recovered, this type of boss can easily decide that this employee is now an enemy or untrustworthy, and take steps to punish him for claiming his rights to workers’ comp.

When this happens, the workday can become a nightmare for the worker.

Types of Workplace Retaliation After a Return to the Job

A boss who has grown resentful of an employee who used workers’ comp benefits may try various approaches to getting rid of this worker. Firing him outright can cause legal trouble because it looks, on its face, to be an act of discrimination—and, in any case, terminating the employee does not cut off his workers’ compensation benefits.

However, if the worker can be persuaded to quit, it’s much easier to close down workers’ comp benefits. So often bosses will take steps to make the worker’s job unpleasant. Common techniques for this include:

  • Demoting the employee.
  • Refusing to make reasonable accommodations to the workers’ medical limitations.
  • Placing the worker in a menial, boring, or unpleasant job.
  • Assigning the worker to overnight shifts, or to work shifts that will conflict with home life or childcare availability.
  • Lying about what the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation program guarantees.
  • Using harsher standards when evaluating this worker during performance reviews.
  • Targeting the worker for special disciplinary penalties.
  • Closing off opportunities for career advancement for this worker.

Protecting Your Workers’ Compensation Benefits While Protecting Your Job

Discrimination against an employee because he has claimed Pennsylvania workers’ compensation benefits is against the law. It is a fundamental principle that workers may not be punished for claiming their legal rights, and that includes the right to file for benefits they legitimately deserve.

Beyond that bedrock guarantee, there are various laws that protect employees from workplace discrimination—which includes repeated unfair or unequal treatment at the job, as well as unfairness in making decisions about hiring, firing, and promoting workers. Discrimination against people because of their current or past disabilities is illegal. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigates claims that employers have violated federal anti-discrimination laws. The Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission (PHRC) acts to enforce state laws against discrimination. In addition, a worker who has materially suffered due to discrimination in the workplace can file a personal injury lawsuit against his employer.

Knowing the difference between what actions an employer may legally take and what actions are forbidden may be crucial when you prepare to return to work after an injury. We can help. At the Harrisburg office of Schmidt Kramer, our workers’ compensation attorneys regularly answer the questions for folks from Hummelstown, Colonial Park, Hershey, Steelton, and other nearby communities.

If you are making the transition back to work and fear that you may become the target of retribution, call us at 717-888-8888 locally or 888-476-0807 toll-free to schedule a free, confidential case review. We also invite you to request free copy of our client report, Who Pays the Bills When You Are Injured at Work?, available as a download from this site or by mail when ordered by phone.