You’ve been hurt on the job and now you can’t work. You know that workers’ compensation will cover your medical benefits and lost wages while you recover. You want to file a claim, but you’re worried about getting fired. Can your boss fire you for filing a workers’ compensation claim?
What is workers’ compensation?
First, let’s take a look at how workers’ compensation works. Workers’ compensation is insurance providing wage replacement and medical benefits to employees injured in the course of employment in exchange for mandatory relinquishment of the employee’s right to sue his or her employer for the tort of negligence. It helps both parties avoid the trouble and expense of litigation and makes sure that your medical bills and lost wages are taken care of.
Generally, employers must provide workers’ compensation if they have more than three employees. If your job involves exposure to radiation, you’re entitled to workers’ compensation coverage regardless of the number of employees.
When can I file a claim?
You can make a claim for any injury you suffer at work in the course of your work. You can’t file a claim if you were under the influence of a controlled substance and your injury was caused by your intoxication. You also can’t file a claim if you acted willfully to hurt yourself or another person.
To file your workers’ compensation claim, you’ll need to submit a set of forms to the North Carolina Industrial Commission. You can find those forms here.
When will I get my money?
Once you notify your employer of your injury, they and the insurance company have 14 days to determine whether you’re entitled to compensation.
Your first payment comes within 14 days after that. That puts money in your pocket much faster than a standard personal injury case can. If your employer denies your workers’ compensation benefits, you can appeal the decision to the North Carolina Industrial Commission. That’s going to draw out the process, but will probably still be faster (and definitely cheaper) than a lawsuit.
Can my employer fire me for filing a workers’ compensation claim?
In short, no. In North Carolina, the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA) protects workers from retaliation by employers for filing a workers’ compensation claim. Your employer can’t fire you for filing. They also can’t suspend you, demote you, or otherwise change your employment situation for the worse.
What can I do if my employer fired me for filing a workers’ compensation claim?
If you believe your employer retaliated against you for filing a claim, you’ll need to report it to the North Carolina Department of Labor. They’ll assign an investigator to look into your case and determine whether your employer did discriminate against you.
The investigator may not find any evidence of retaliation. This is called a “No Merit” finding. In that case, you’ll be given a Right-To-Sue letter. The letter allows you to file a civil lawsuit against your employer within 90 days if you desire to do so.
If the investigator does find that your employer fired you or otherwise adversely altered your employment conditions, it’s called a “Merit” finding. The Department of Labor will try to use informal methods where possible to right the wrong. That means they’ll attempt to mediate between you and your employer to get you back into your old job. If that doesn’t work, the DOL with either choose to file a civil suit against your employer on your behalf or you’ll be given a Right-To-Sue letter and you can file suit on your own.
If you do go to court and win, the court may issue an injunction against your employer for violating North Carolina’s REDA. The court may also force your employer to give you your old position back along with any fringe benefits. Finally, you may be able to claim lost wages and benefits for the time during which you were unemployed.
My employer fired me for filing a claim. What should I do?
Contact an experienced attorney. Your attorney will make sure you get the best possible outcome from your discrimination case. Your employer doesn’t have the right to fire you for filing a workers’ compensation claim. Know your rights and don’t let yourself be a victim of discrimination.