Can I be fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim?

When an employee suffers a workplace injury or illness, he or she naturally has many concerns. Health and financial concerns are among the most common. The Iowa workers’ compensation system aims to help employees overcome these obstacles by providing for the employee’s medical care and lost wages. However, injured employees may hesitate to seek these important benefits because they are worried about retaliation from their employer. When an employee obtains these benefits, the employer (or its insurance company) must pay the worker the appropriate wages and cover their medical bills. Sometimes, employees fear that the employer will not want to pay what is due and terminate employment to avoid this expense. In general, this behavior is not allowed under the law.

Iowa Public Policy Prevents Employer Retaliation Against Injured Workers

Under the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act, an employer is prohibited from retaliating against or terminating the employment of a worker simply for filing a workers’ compensation claim. In the 1988 court case Springer v. Weeks and Leo Co., Inc., the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of an employee who claimed she had been fired for pursuing a workers’ compensation claim after developing carpal tunnel syndrome on the job. The court stated that terminating an employee for exercising a right to benefits was against the public policy of the state of Iowa. Additionally, state policy protects employees not just from termination but also from other forms of retaliation, including:

  • Demotion
  • Reduction in pay
  • Shift or position change
  • Unfounded disciplinary actions

Proving an Employer Has Retaliated After a Workers’ Compensation Claim

There are specific criteria that must be met to show that an employer has acted against state policy. These four elements are:

  • You are an employee entitled to benefits. Not every worker is considered an employee of a business. There are certain exceptions, including independent contractors, who may not be eligible.
  • You filed a claim acceptable under state rules. An injured employee must file a claim in good faith. Even if a workers’ compensation claim is ultimately denied, as long as the employee was acting in an honest manner, he can be protected. An employee who files a fraudulent claim, however, may not be entitled to same protection.
  • You suffered some negative repercussion as a result of that claim. Simply, the injured worker was fired or suffered some other form of retaliation, including those mentioned previously.
  • Your employer took that action in response to your claim. This can often be the most difficult element to prove. Some indications that the employer’s action was a response to the benefits claim include timing, reaction (if managers displayed anger toward the employee), deviation from past company practice, multiple or changing reasons for the employment change, and a history of retaliation against other employees.

If you have experienced negative consequences at work after filing a workers’ compensation claim, it is important to stand up for yourself. An experienced attorney can help you examine your situation and determine exactly what your rights are in each unique situation.

A Workers’ Compensation Claim Cannot Protect Employees Entirely

There are situations in which an employee can experience a negative work change that is protected by the law, however. Just because an injured worker has filed a workers’ compensation claim, it does not mean she cannot be fired for other reasons. There are a number of situations in which an employer is within its rights to change the work status of an injured worker, including:

  • Company downsizing
  • Just cause for termination (unrelated to the injury)
  • The employee is unable to perform job duties

Injured Employees Can Obtain Compensation for Employer Retaliation

If an injured employee is fired or otherwise retaliated against simply because of a workers’ compensation claim, the employer can be held accountable. The employee can obtain both the workers’ compensation benefits he deserves, as well as:

  • Back pay
  • Compensation for losses related to termination, such as the expense of looking for a new job
  • Front pay (wages you would have earned going forward) or reinstatement of employment
  • Attorney’s fees

If you or someone you love has been treated unfairly or wrongly terminated after a workplace injury, you have rights in Iowa that can be protected. Contact the experienced workers’ compensation attorneys the Pothitakis Law Firm today to talk with a member of our team and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.