Suffering a work injury that may require you to miss work is overwhelming and anxious enough. If you are injured at work and then fired because of it, it will only compound your anxiety, stress, and fear of what is to come. Employees have a right to file a workers’ compensation claim if they suffer a work-related injury or illness, and they should not have to fear being fired for filing a claim. New York law recognizes this and addresses workers’ compensation claims and wrongful termination.
If you were recently involved in a work accident and injured, you are probably wondering, Can I be fired if I file a workers’ comp claim? The simple answer is no. Under New York Law, you cannot legally lose your job in retaliation for filing for workers’ comp benefits.
New York Workers’ Compensation Law
Under New York law, all employers must carry workers’ compensation insurance to compensate employees for injuries sustained during employment. Workers’ comp insurance covers the cost of medical treatment, supplements lost wages, and reimburse rehabilitation costs. Notably, if you are an independent contractor, you likely do not qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.
Like many other states, New York is an “at-will employment” state, meaning an employer can terminate an employee at any time, for any reason, unless they discriminate or illegally retaliate against their employee. It also means an employee can quit or voluntarily leave for any reason. Most employment is considered at-will employment unless you have an employment contract stating otherwise.
There are provisions in the New York State workers’ compensation regulations and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that address when an employee’s termination is not justified following a work accident.
What Is Retaliatory Discharge?
The retaliatory discharge definition is broad and can encompass many situations. It refers to when an employer terminates an employee as a punishment for something other than work performance—usually for exercising a legally protected right.
In other words, if your boss fires you because you filed a workers’ comp claim, this is unlawful and is considered a wrongful discharge. In fact, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, retaliation is one of the most frequently alleged bases of discrimination by employers.
New York law, like most states, makes it clear that employers cannot fire a worker solely because they filed a claim for workers’ comp benefits. However, this, unfortunately, does not stop some employers from doing just that.
What If I Was Discharged for Another Reason?
Employers often try to justify their actions by claiming there is another legitimate reason for letting their employee go. Not all employers are bad apples, and there are lawful reasons an employer can fire an employee after the employee files for workers’ compensation benefits.
Examples of valid reasons for termination may include:
- Committing a crime,
- Misconduct in the place of business,
- Poor job performance,
- Multiple unexcused absences,
- Lack of available work,
- Economic downturn, and
- Profit loss.
It can be challenging to prove your termination was unlawful when your employer cites a valid business reason.
However, you still have the right to file for workers’ compensation benefits. Being let go as part of a reduction in force or for a legitimate performance-based reason does not generally affect your right to workers’ compensation benefits. The same is true if you quit your job after suffering a workplace injury. If you were injured on the job, you can file for benefits even if you stop working for that employer after your injury.
I Had to Miss Work Because of My Work Injury and Was Let Go: Was My Termination Illegal?
If you are unable to work following an on-the-job accident, you are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). That means your employer cannot fire you within twelve weeks of your injury based on your inability to work. If you still cannot return to work after that time, your employer may be able to terminate your employment. However, if you can work with accommodations, you may have additional protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
If you are able to return to work and your employer fires you anyway, you can seek to hold them accountable by filing a discrimination claim. Examples of when being fired after a work accident are not justified include if an employee:
- Reports a work accident,
- Files a workers’ compensation claim,
- Hires an attorney,
- Seeks medical treatment,
- Misses work to seek medical treatment,
- Does not perform tasks above their physician-ordered work restrictions, or
- Takes leave per the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Being let go for any of these reasons may be unlawful and discriminatory. The best way to determine if you were terminated unlawfully for filing a workers’ comp claim or taking FMLA leave is to speak with a knowledgeable work injury attorney.
New York Retaliatory Discharge Claim
There are several ways in which an employer can take retaliatory action against an injured worker other than firing them. An employer could demote employees, cut their hours, fail to promote them, prevent them from seeking medical treatment, or verbally threaten to fire them.
Injured at Work and then Fired?
Proving a retaliatory discharge claim is not as simple as it may seem because there usually isn’t “smoking gun” evidence that your employer acted unlawfully. Chances are your employer will not spell out in writing, “I am firing you because you filed a workers’ comp claim.” Instead, they will provide other reasons, likely not even in writing. This means to prove your claim, you will need to gather evidence that cumulatively shows employer misconduct. Examples of this evidence may include:
- Communication and correspondence (e.g., emails, text messages, and memos),
- Phone conversations and voicemails,
- Witness statements, and
- A pattern of employer behavior (e.g., previous employee testimony that they were also fired or demoted for filing a workers’ comp claim).
One of these pieces of evidence alone may not be enough to prove your claim. Still, multiple pieces of circumstantial evidence can lead to a strong case for retaliatory dismissal.
An experienced attorney can help you investigate your claim, gather evidence, and formulate a strategy to hold your former employer responsible.
New York Work Injury Lawyers
At Ferrante & Koenig, we have helped hundreds of people get back on track after suffering work injuries and wrongful termination. If you are injured at work and then fired, we understand this may be a financially difficult time in your life, and we always offer free consultations. Meet with one of our experienced lawyers for a no-cost case review. You should be focusing on your recovery. Call us today, and let us handle the rest.