Some employers do not budget properly for workers’ compensation claims. When an employee is injured on the job, the boss does his best to discourage filing an accident report and tries to convince the worker that his regular health insurance should pay for injury-related care. The boss intimidates the whole workforce into believing that anyone who files for workers’ compensation places his job in jeopardy.
If this strikes you as unjust—well, it is. It’s also illegal. Under the law, workers’ compensation has a greater obligation than personal health insurance to cover medical expenses for job-related accidents and occupational diseases. Also, the right of a worker to seek employment benefits, including workers’ compensation, is supposed to be free from threats of retribution.
Nevertheless, people do get fired or laid off in Pennsylvania after filing workers’ compensation claims. It’s not a coincidence.
Does this mean that the laws don’t work? No, we think that it’s more that workers don’t understand their legal rights and don’t fight back when those rights are trampled.
How Safe Is Your Job When You File a Workers’ Comp Claim in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, employment is considered “at will.” Unless there is a specific labor contract in place, workers are free to leave their jobs at any times, and employers are free to fire workers for any reason, or for no reason at all. However, there are some key exceptions to this blanket rule. Anti-discrimination laws from the 1960s onward have limited employers’ power to make employment decisions that would have a discriminatory effect. A boss could not arbitrarily fire all women, for example, or all disabled people.
Things are a little more complex when we turn specifically to legal precedents dealing with workers’ compensation. Courts and statute law have found that employers are not required to keep a job open for someone who is missing work because of an injury. However, an employer may not be fired just for exercising his legal right to claim workers’ compensation benefits, any more than a worker can be fired for exercising his right to vote or for missing work to attend jury duty.
The key legal case in Pennsylvania is Shick v. Shirey, decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1998. The court’s ruling was that if an employer fires a worker because of a workers’ compensation claim, that employer would be vulnerable to a lawsuit for wrongful termination. The fired worker would not be able to demand his job back, but he could seek compensation for being pushed out of his job unjustly.
Can You Keep Both Your Job and Your Workers’ Comp Benefits?
Employers who are determined to retaliate against workers know they have to be subtle about it. They won’t lay off a worker merely for filing a workers’ comp claim, but they will look for excuses to fire him because of poor job performance.
For this reason, it’s vital that an injured employee who returns to work does not make himself an easy target for termination. If you have been hurt in a workplace accident, you should give your best effort to fulfill your job duties when you return to the workplace. If your job duties are too burdensome for your condition, you should notify management as soon as possible and request new duties that fall within your capabilities. You must not refuse any offer of suitable employment, but you also should not try to do anything that exceeds the limits of your work-related disability.
It’s a difficult balancing act. If you need answers to your questions, or if you believe that your job is threatened, now is the time to consult with the employment attorneys at Schmidt Kramer in Harrisburg. We work on behalf of workers’ compensation claimants across central Pennsylvania. Call us at (717) 888-8888 toll-free to schedule a free, confidential case review.