Can You Get Fired for Being Injured on the Job?
On-the-job injuries are generally compensated under Alabama’s workers’ compensation statutes. Those statutes require that an employer receive prompt notice of the accident’s occurrence. Many employees are afraid to report an on-the-job injury. Others are discouraged from filing notice. People are afraid that if they file a workers’ compensation claim they could be fired. While the law cannot prevent people from doing wrong things, it can punish them for doing so. The law is clear that an employee cannot be fired for making a workers’ compensation claim.
Alabama Code §25-5-11.1 provides that no employee shall be terminated by an employer solely because the employee has instituted or maintained any action against the employer to recover workers' compensation benefits.
Sometimes these claims are called “wrongful termination” or “retaliatory discharge” claims. An employee who is fired solely for making a workers’ comp claim can recover damages incurred as a result of that termination. In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded.
The courts have said that a fired employee only needs to show:
the existence of an employment relationship,
an on-the-job injury,
knowledge of the injury on the part of the employer, and
subsequent termination of employment based solely upon the employee filing a workers’ compensation claim because of the injury.
An employee may have to use circumstantial evidence to show that termination was because of the workers’ compensation claim, such as:
knowledge of the compensation claim by those making the decision on termination
expression of a negative attitude toward the employee's injured condition
failure to adhere to established company policy
discriminatory treatment in comparison to similarly situated employees
sudden changes in an employee's work performance evaluations following a workers’ compensation claim
evidence that the stated reason for the discharge was false
You can see why it is important to give notice of the on-the-job injury.
If the employer can argue that it didn’t know, or if the person making the decision to terminate did not know, then the employer might more easily be able to prove that the termination was not because of any workers’ comp claim.
Once an employee makes such a showing in court, then the employer must prove some other basis for the termination, or it will be liable.
If an employer proves that it had some other reason for the termination, then the employee cannot recover. This is different than what is typical in Alabama. Alabama is an at-will employment state which means that an employee can be fired for any reason or no reason at all (provided it is not for an illegal reason, such as discrimination, etc.).