Many people come to see us not only to help with problems they are having with their workers’ comp claims, but also to help with problems they are having with their employer after an injury has happened. Most people believe that their employer cannot fire them while they are off work after an injury. Unfortunately–and unbelievable–this is not true. Your employer can let you go while you are recuperating from an injury!
Ohio is an “at will work state.” This means that your employer can fire you for almost any reason, or for no reason at all. You are protected under federal law from being fired on the basis of your age, race, religion, gender or national origin, but almost any other reason is OK with Ohio law makers. Our state workers’ comp laws only say that an employer cannot fire or discriminate against you for filing or pursuing a claim. Other than that, your job has little protection while you are off following an injury.
If you quit your job, your employer doesn’t have to pay you disability. Employers know this, and they may look for ways to encourage you to quit your job so they can avoid the cost of paying you if you become disabled after an injury. We talk to people who have been embarrassed in front of coworkers, given terrible light duty jobs, and generally just pushed until they give up and quit. It can really hurt your claim.
And if you won’t quit, your employer may be able to find another way to avoid paying your disability pay. Under Ohio workers’ comp law, you cannot get disability pay if you break a company rule that you knew about and that you knew would result in termination. For example, many employers have “no show/no call” rules in their handbooks. If you don’t come to work and don’t call in to say why you aren’t there, you can be fired. As another example, some handbooks set forth a system of points for violations of the rules. When you have so many points, you can be terminated. Many handbooks list tardiness as a “dischargeable offense,” and after so many times of being late for your job you can be fired.
If your employer can show that you signed for a handbook when you were hired, that you broke a rule that had possible termination as punishment, and that they fired you, you may be blocked from getting disability pay. Because of this, many employers start looking for violations and keeping track of them after an injury. This becomes an easy way for an employer to avoid the cost of your disability pay. And small violations of the company rules–being five minutes late for a shift, running a batch of bad parts, even having to miss a day for an appointment–can become the basis for a termination that hurts your workers’ comp case.
It is hard to believe that an employer can get away with this, and it is an unfortunate problem that we see in many cases. The best thing you can do is to be aware of the danger. Be aware of your company policies–and be prepared that behaviors that were acceptable for you before the injury, may not be acceptable afterwards. If your employer writes you up for something after an injury, write up your own account of what happened or dispute the discipline you are given. Hold your employer to the policy they way they hold you to it. If you have a union, be sure to keep your steward updated on any disciplinary actions that are taken. And if you are ultimately fired for reasons that seem unfair to you, consult an attorney about your right to take action against your employer.
We cannot emphasize enough the importance of knowing your rights. Your employer is well versed in these aspects of the law. They use that information to their advantage. The more you know about your rights under the workers’ comp law, the more equal you are to your employer and the less likely it is that they will take advantage of you after a work related injury.