Can you be fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim or accepting a settlement?
When an Arizona worker is injured at work or is diagnosed with an occupational illness, they often have to seek treatment and possibly take a break from work to recover. While undergoing treatment and recovery, they still need to pay their bills, despite losing wages for the time taken off work.
Fortunately, Arizona’s workers’ compensation system exists to help injured workers cover their medical bills and lost wages while undergoing treatment and recovery following a work-related accident.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that many workers fear that their boss might fire them for filing a workers’ compensation claim or reporting a workplace accident.
For this reason, it’s important to understand exactly how employment law in Arizona gives certain rights and protections to injured workers who file a workers’ compensation claim.
Can you get fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim in Arizona?
Arizona is an “at-will” employment state, which means that—barring a contract that says otherwise—you can leave your job with or without reason. Unfortunately, this also means that your employer can fire you with or without cause.
In Arizona, an exception to this rule is that employers cannot explicitly fire an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim.
“Retaliatory termination,” or firing a worker in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim, is not allowed; however, the employer can still fire the worker for other supposed reasons.
What’s more, there is a high burden of proof required to prove that termination or being fired was retaliatory, typically requiring clear and definitive evidence showing that you were fired because of your workers’ compensation claim.
Unless you have an employment contract, your work is always at risk of sudden and unexpected termination in Arizona. If you signed an employment contract with starting and ending dates, you cannot be fired even when receiving workers’ compensation.
As long the termination appears to be directly connected with you filing for workers’ compensation, then Arizona law considers it “illegal” termination.
Some of the legitimate reasons which can get you fired include:
Poor performance at work
After your injury, your performance at work might suffer due to your limitations. Your employer can argue that they still need the job to be well done. Therefore, after issuing several warnings with no improvement, your employer may decide to fire you due to poor performance—even if the poor performance results from your work-related injury.
While receiving workers’ compensation benefits, your company might need to reduce its workforce and your job might be terminated during this time. In such cases, it’s difficult for you to claim that you were fired because of filing workers’ compensation. Yes, it is unfair, but the company will argue that they have profit goals and objectives they need to achieve.
Additionally, if the injured worker was not the only one who was fired in a layoff and other (non-injured) workers were also terminated, then this evidence can be used by your employer to show that wrongful termination doesn’t apply.
After a catastrophic injury, the worker might suffer permanent disability. Generally, the employer must offer sufficient time for the worker to reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). After MMI is reached, if the worker is still unable to perform their basic job duties as required, the employer is free to let the worker go.
While it sounds unfair that a company can fire an employee who became disabled after being injured at work, this is the law. That said, if you can prove that you can indeed still perform your job duties with reasonable accommodations, then you may be protected from termination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prevents employers from discriminating against disabled individuals.
Will workers’ compensation benefits end when the worker is fired?
Whether the employer or company fired the employee because they filed a workers’ comp claim (wrongful termination) or for another “legitimate” reason, workers’ compensation benefits should continue. The worker should still receive benefits until they are fully recovered or reach MMI. If the compensation was structured, you will continue receiving the benefits weekly or monthly for the specified period.
What should you do if you’re fired for filing a workers’ comp claim?
When you file for workers’ compensation, you should know that while it is unlawful for your employer to fire you as punishment under Arizona’s wrongful termination law, the state’s at-will employment rules make it difficult for injured workers to prove that they were fired in retaliation and not for another reason.
To get started, we will need to have all the documents showing that you obtained medical treatment, followed the doctor’s instructions and the time it took you to recover (if you have recovered, that is). Also, we will need documentation to show that you filed for workers’ compensation and the employer agreed to it.
If you were fired after a workers’ compensation claim, we will have to prove convincingly that your work injury was the reason behind your work termination. The court may check with your employer to see if you went back to work and your performance was good after the injury. If you didn’t take more days off, you were always on time and you didn’t leave your shift early, then that information might help establish that you were fired because of filing a workers’ compensation claim and nothing else.
Workers shouldn’t fear filing a workers’ compensation claim because of the risk of being fired. In Arizona, there are rules protecting the injured worker. Even so, employer retaliation can be a particularly difficult area of law. We have relationships with employment and labor law attorneys who can help should the need arise.
If this is the situation you face, you should seek legal counsel from an experienced Arizona workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible who can help you file a wrongful termination case against your employer. First though, we’ll need to prove that there was no other reason behind your termination.