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Can You Terminate an Employee While on Workers’ Comp?

Workers’ compensation is a system put in place to protect employees from having to pay out-of-pocket for accidents and injuries that occur on the job. If an injury takes an employee out of work temporarily, job security after recovery can provide better peace of mind to the injured worker. In Pennsylvania, an employer has the right to fire an employee who is on workers’ comp. However, certain things must be true for the termination to be lawful. You may be entitled to compensation. Contact the Pittsburgh workers compensation lawyers at Dallas W. Hartman P.C. for your free consultation.

What Are Wrongful Termination and Retaliation?

First, the termination cannot be based on a desire to retaliate against the worker for filing a workers’ compensation insurance claim or complaining about a hazard in the workplace. Retaliation in employment law means to take adverse employment action against a worker as a form of punishment for protected activity. Filing a workers’ compensation claim is a protected activity by law, meaning it is illegal for an employer to fire someone simply for filing a claim. This is what is known as wrongful termination, which can give a victim the right to file a lawsuit against the employer for additional financial compensation.

Are You an At-Will Employee?

If a worker lives in an at-will employment state and is not a contracted employee, an employer can fire the worker for any reason or no reason at all. This is because, like most states, Pennsylvania is an at-will employment state. In Pennsylvania, an employer does not need a reason to terminate someone’s employment. They also don’t need to give the employee advance notice of the termination. In exchange, the employee doesn’t have to give any notice or reason for quitting the job.

An exception to the at-will employment law is that an employer cannot fire an employee for an unlawful reason. If the reason violates the law – such as the law against retaliation, harassment, or discrimination – the employer could face a lawsuit for wrongful termination. This includes if the employer fires the employee just for suffering an injury on the job or claiming workers’ compensation benefits. These are protected activities. If the employee has a contract that protects him or her from being terminated without a valid reason, being fired could also constitute wrongful termination.

When You Can and Cannot Fire a Worker on Workers’ Comp

While it is illegal for an employer to fire someone only because they are on workers’ compensation, this doesn’t mean that the employee has job security. An employer can terminate the employment of someone with an open workers’ compensation claim or someone who is receiving workers’ comp benefits as long as there is a viable reason for doing so. Legal reasons to terminate someone who is on workers’ comp in Pennsylvania include:

  • Restructuring of the company
  • Laying workers off for financial reasons
  • Poor work performance by the employee
  • Employee misconduct
  • A disability that bars the employee from performing necessary work duties

If the employee suffered a temporary or permanent disability in the workplace accident, the employer has a legal obligation to make reasonable accommodations for the disability. In many cases, a worker with a lasting injury can return to light work duty or an alternate job for the same employer. If the employer cannot make disability accommodations, he or she can legally let the employee go. However, in this scenario, the employee would qualify for a significant portion of his or her average weekly wage in workers’ comp and/or disability benefits.

Document Your Case

Whether you are the employer or employee when a workers’ compensation claim is filed, document your side of the case for future use. Terminating someone who is collecting workers’ compensation insurance is a delicate matter that must be handled with care. As an employer, it is important to document your lawful reason for firing the injured worker to avoid allegations of wrongful termination. As an employee, document your injury and employment to protect yourself from retaliation or discrimination. In either case, contact an attorney who can help you with the legal side of your situation.

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