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Can Employees be Fired for Filing Workers’ Compensation?

by The Bainbridge Firm, LLC | Jul 18, 2022 | General Information

If you’re looking to file an Ohio workers’ compensation claim, or you’ve recently failed a claim, you may be concerned about retaliatory action from your employer. Can they penalize you or fire you for filing an Ohio workers’ compensation claim?

The short answer is no. The Ohio code states that “No employer shall discharge, demote, reassign, or take any punitive action against any employee because the employee filed a claim” (Ohio Revised Code § 4123.90).

So, it would be wrongful termination if an employer fires an employee because the employee filed for workers’ compensation benefits. However, that does not mean that firings and other punishments never happen. It is important to know what an employee can do if she is fired for filing workers’ compensation or seeking benefits under an existing claim, and that’s why it’s important to have an Ohio workers’ compensation attorney in your corner.

At-Will Employment and Justified Termination

You may know about at-will employment. Most employees in Ohio are at-will employees. This means that they can quit at any time and that employers can fire them at any time and for any reason.

As any Ohio workers’ compensation lawyer will tell you, the above excerpt from the Ohio code provides an exception to this rule and protects employees. However, it is not bulletproof. There are many reasons why an employer could justifiably fire an employee. If an employee is fired justifiably, they will not be protected by the Ohio code. 

Examples of justified excuses to fire an employee include absenteeism, poor performance reviews, tardiness, or violation of company policies. This means that if an employee has been subpar, she can still be fired after filing a workers’ compensation claim – although the filing may not be the reason the employer lists for the termination.

Even if someone has been a model employee, an angry employer may still be motivated to punish them. Workers’ compensation is basically an insurance system where employers pool money into a state fund. That state fund is used to pay employees when they are injured. Companies that incur more injuries must pay more money into the state pool. It’s the same basic concept as your car insurance premiums going up if you’ve been in multiple car accidents.

So, if an employer is upset at an employee for raising their payments, they may retaliate against the employee. That retaliation is not limited to firing. It could also be reassignment, pay cuts, or other similar punishments. These are the situations where an Ohio workers’ compensation attorney is most valuable. The good news is that even if an employee is fired, she may still be entitled to her workers’ compensation benefits.

If you have been punished following a work injury, filing of a claim, or requests for treatment or benefits under an existing claim, contact one of our expert Ohio workers’ compensation lawyers and find out what recourse you may have available to you.

How Can an Ohio Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Help With a Retaliatory Discharge Claim?

Generally, the goal of a lawsuit is to put the injured party back into the position they would have been in if the injury had not occurred. This means that parties bringing lawsuits rarely get anything “extra” out of the suit.

When working with an Ohio workers compensation lawyer, the most common remedies for wrongful termination are reinstatement with back pay for being fired, or lost wages in the case of demotion. However, because the justice system usually prevents parties from getting anything extra, any earnings collected after discharge or demotion will be subtracted from the award.

To preserve a retaliatory termination or treatment claim under the workers’ compensation statute, an employee must give the employer written notice of the alleged violation within 90 days. The employee has an additional 90 days to file an official complaint. If these deadlines are not met, a court may dismiss the case.

How Does a Retaliatory Discharge Claim Work if the Employee Previously Violated Policy?

In a retaliatory discharge claim, there are three steps.

  1. The employee makes a claim that she was fired as a punishment for filing workers’ compensation.
  2. The employer responds with an excuse.
  3. The employee argues that the excuse is pretextual.

This process is best illustrated with an example. Let’s say that a chef and her assistant show up late to work every day, but the restaurant owner never does anything about it. Then one day the chef slips and falls at work. She files a workers’ compensation claim. This upsets the restaurant owner, and he fires her. What happens?

First, the chef will file a retaliatory discharge claim (likely with the help of an Ohio workers’ compensation lawyer). The restaurant owner can point to the employee’s tardiness as a legitimate reason to fire her, but the chef has three ways to disprove the employer.

She can explain that the employer’s reason:

  • Had no basis in fact (i.e. if the chef had not actually been tardy but the employer claimed she was)
  • Did not actually motivate the discharge, or
  • Was insufficient to motivate the discharge

In this case, the tardiness did not actually motivate the discharge because the employer has never cared about the tardiness before. Additionally, the tardiness was insufficient to motivate the discharge since the restaurant owner did not fire the chef’s assistant who was also frequently tardy. 

In spite of the above rules, there are limits to what types of cases an employee can successfully bring. A qualified Ohio workers’ compensation attorney will help a client navigate the complexities of workers’ compensation law and empower the client to collect a settlement for both the injury sustained at work and for the retaliation.

If you or someone you know was fired for filing a worker’s compensation, you should contact one of our knowledgeable and compassionate Ohio workers’ compensation attorneys at The Bainbridge Firm.