Any time you are injured on the job, your employer will do everything in their power to fire you. In fact, the law gives them an incentive to fire you. If they can fire you with cause, they don’t have to pay your Workers’ Compensation benefits anymore. So how can you resist these underhanded measures to keep your job and your benefits? It may not be as easy as you think.
If you are injured at work and you are later able to return to work with medically restricted duties, your employer may try to provoke you into a fireable offense starting with your first day back on the job. Your employer doesn’t really want to be paying you if you can’t perform your full duties, and they definitely don’t want to keep paying your workers’ compensation benefits.
Even though your injury happened at work, your employer probably doesn’t want to take financial responsibility for your injury. Therefore, they will try to make you do or say something that they can fire you for.
Well, what does this look like? I had a client named John who was a Marine Corps veteran. He was working in a food warehouse when a bag of frozen produce fell about 12 feet and crushed his hand. Even after multiple surgeries, John was not able to regain full use of his hand. His doctor told him he couldn’t work in the warehouse anymore. The warehouse countered that they had some one-handed work that John could do.
What was this work? When John came back to work, they made him the new bathroom attendant. They put a chair in the men’s room and told him it was now his job to make sure they didn’t run out of soap, paper towels, etc. He did this for about six months, but he felt like he was being set up to be fired.
Sure enough, one day, John’s boss asked him to go and get some heavy cleaning supplies, a task he couldn’t perform with his disability. He had his work restrictions and told his boss he couldn’t do that. His boss said they didn’t have any other help and asked if John was refusing to do the work.
After that, they started to argue. His boss told him to come upstairs, and he was taken to the plant manager and fired for cause. This meant, of course, that he lost his Workers’ Compensation benefits. Unfortunately, we were not able to win this case.
I disagree with this law because Workers’ Compensation is supposed to be a no fault system. No matter whose fault it is, if you are injured at work you should get Workers’ Compensation benefits. This law leads to employers using underhanded tactics like what happened to John to try to get out of paying the benefits they owe.
Unfortunately, this is the law in Virginia, so it’s important to be aware of it and be on the lookout for signs that your employer is trying to find and excuse to fire you.