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Q: My employer and the insurance company are really pressuring me not to pursue my case after I hurt my back while lifting heavy objects at work. Can I really be fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim in Pennsylvania?

It’s very unlikely that will happen.

Your employer pays a regular premium to an insurance company; typically, those payments are due every three months. The insurance company then has the duty to pay off any valid workers’ compensation claims filed against that business. The insurer expects it will collect more in premiums than it has to pay out in benefits.

Your company expects that it will pay less in premiums than it would have to spend to pay comp benefits directly to injured employees, but that doesn’t really matter; under Pennsylvania law, very few businesses are allowed to “self-insure” that way. Most businesses are required to buy insurance. Since you mention an insurance company’s involvement in your question, it’s clear your company is with the majority here.

If you have suffered an injury on the job in Harrisburg, Lebanon, or any of our neighboring communities, then your employer’s insurance company will be responsible for paying your workers’ compensation benefits. Now, the insurance company has a definite incentive to try to minimize the money it pays you; every penny it saves adds to its profits at the end of the year. But the payments you receive don’t affect your employer’s bottom line at all. Your boss doesn’t save any money if you’re fired.

It’s almost certain, then, that any veiled threats you receive that suggest your job may be in jeopardy are coming from the insurance company. If you can be intimidated into withdrawing your claim, the insurance company will get to keep a big chunk of money. The insurance adjuster handling your case might even get a nice bonus. So we think you’re being lied to. Don’t worry about your job.

Workers’ Compensation Regulations Also Protect You

Here’s a simple question that it may not have occurred to you to ask: What happens to your pending workers’ compensation application—or your current benefits—if you lose your job? The surprising answer: nothing happens. If you are collecting medical and wage benefits already, those will continue until you have achieved your maximum medical recovery and are able to return to work, respectively. If you have applied for benefits but they haven’t been awarded yet, the application process will continue.

Firing you won’t cut off your benefits or save money for the insurance company or for your employer. So there is no reason to believe you will lose your job over this.

Labor Law Protects You, Too

Pennsylvania, like most of the other 50 states, follows the employment at will rule for jobs. Unless there is a specific labor contract between you and your employer, you are free to quit your job at any time. Your boss is equally free to fire you at any time, for almost any reason, or even without a good reason.

There are two big exceptions to employment at will, however:

  1. An employer cannot make employment decisions that violate protection for certain classes of people (such as racial minorities or the disabled) or decisions that are based on other characteristics (such as religion or national origin).
  2. An employer cannot make employment decisions that are based on employee’s pursuit of rights guaranteed by law, such as the right to vote and the right to seek government benefits.

It’s that second clause that applies in your case. If your employer fires you because you are applying for workers’ compensation benefits, he stands in violation of state and federal law. He can face stiff civil and criminal penalties, potentially including large fines and jail time. You would be able to sue to either get your job back or (more likely) collect the equivalent of several years’ wages. Most employers won’t even consider taking that risk.

Let Us Stand with You if You’re Worried About Retaliation

Laws protect you from an employer who might want to discriminate against you because of your workers’ compensation claim. But insurance companies have an extensive set of tricks and gambits to persuade you to accept less than you need for your medical bills—and far less than you deserve.

If you believe that the insurance company or your boss is retaliating against you for seeking workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania, contact our Harrisburg workers’ compensation attorneys.

With one call to 717-888-8888 or (888) 476-0807, you can get your questions answered, order a copy of our FREE book, Who Pays The Bills When You Are Injured At Work?, or arrange for a FREE case review by our experienced legal team. We’ll let you know what we can do to help.