Can I Get Fired on Light Duty?
Most people just want to get back to work as quick as they can after an injury at work. Unfortunately, employers do not always provide you with what you want.
Some employers just do not have suitable work available. If your employer does not have suitable work available, they may just terminate your employment if you are unable to return to your regular job.
Other employers do provide light duty work. These employers may provide work but only temporarily. Some of them do provide light duty jobs on a more permanent basis.
Many people find that their work restrictions prevent you from being as productive at work as they used to be. The problem that many workers have to worry about is whether there employer is going to fire them when they are back at light duty work. If you are faced with this situation, you need to know how getting fired will affect your workers’ compensation case. You also need to know how it will affect your other employment benefits.
Sometimes, your employer will terminate your employment after a work injury. They might let you go because you cannot do your job as well anymore (although they would be very unlikely to admit that). Your employer may just say that they are laying people off because business is slow. They may fire you because they say you have violated company policy, broken a work rule, or accumulated too many points.
Can my company fire me when I have an open workers’ compensation claim?
Most Georgia employees are employees at will. Basically, this means they can be fired for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all. Union employees and other contract employees almost always have better protection than at will employees.
At will employment offers very little protection to employees. Certain federal laws do provide some protections. But some of these federal laws only apply to certain employers.
Also, Georgia has some state laws that provide some protection as well. Unfortunately, Georgia does not have a law that prohibits your employer from firing you while you have an open workers’ compensation claim. So, people with serious injuries must worry about whether their employers will terminate their employment.
What happens if my employer fires me?
Two types of questions should be considered if you are fired sometime after an injury at work:
- How does your employer firing you affect your workers’ compensation case?
- How does being fired affect your employment benefits?
Georgia has strange laws regarding how being fired affects your workers’ compensation case. One critical factor is whether you have returned to a suitable job or not at the time you are fired. If you have returned to a suitable job, getting your workers’ compensation benefits restarted will probably be more difficult.
If you are out of work and receiving temporary total disability benefits when your employer fires you, those benefits will probably continue. The basic idea is that you already showed you were out of work because of your injury, so your employer has to show that you can work to stop those benefits. Your employer firing you is not enough to show that you can work.
However, the exact facts of your case might affect these general rules. Also, many times people are fired shortly after returning to work.
Georgia has special rules about the 15 day time period right after you return to work that may apply if your termination happens during that 15 day period. Even if you are not terminated during this time period, you still need to know these rules when you are returning to light duty work.
How does being terminated affect my workers’ compensation case?
When your employer fires you, it does not end your workers’ compensation case. But it can change your case somewhat. If you still have problems from your injury that restrict your ability to work, you may still receive workers’ compensation benefits after you are fired or laid off.
If you can prove that your employer fired you because of your workers’ compensation injury, then you should receive benefits. Perkins Studdard attorney Cliff Perkins won the case of Padgett v. Waffle House, Inc. at the Georgia Supreme Court. That case decided that workers are entitled to temporary total disability benefits if employers terminate them because of the ir workers’ compensation injuries.
Even if you cannot prove that your employer fired you because of your workers’ compensation injury, you may still be able to prove you are entitled to temporary total disability benefits. Your doctor may take you completely out of work. If that happens, you should start receiving benefits.
Even if you can do restricted work, you can get benefits if you prove that you cannot find suitable work. The usual way of doing this is by trying to find a job. Even if you were not pursuing your workers’ compensation case, you would still try to find a job.
If you cannot find a suitable job, you can request a hearing to try to get workers’ compensation benefits. A judge can award you benefits if you prove that the work restrictions from your injury prevented you from finding a job (or if you had to take a lower paying job because of your work restrictions).
What happens to my other employment benefits if I am fired?
Most people have some kind of benefits through their employers. You may have health insurance, disability insurance, retirement benefits, or other employment benefits.
Being fired could affect several different employment benefits. If you have health insurance through your employer, your employer will likely send you paperwork to offer COBRA coverage. The problem for many people is that COBRA coverage costs a lot. So, you may need to consider what other health insurance options may be available for you.
Your retirement benefits could be affected as well. Losing your job may mean you do not reach a years of service requirement necessary to qualify for benefits.
What can I do about the risk of being fired?
First, do not give your employer any legitimate reason to fire you. Get to work on time. Follow all the work rules.
You do not want to give your employer a “good reason” to fire you. If your employer has a “good reason” to fire you, it may make it harder to get your workers’ compensation benefits started.
Second, and maybe even more import, make sure you are prepared. Knowing what will happen if you get fired allows you to handle the situation better. You can already have a plan or at least most of a plan in place.
Talking to an attorney helps you prepare. A free consultation is usually the easiest way to talk with an attorney.
Our firm provides free consultations in workers’ compensation cases. Click here to read an article that discusses what a workers’ compensation free consultation is, what you will learn from it, and how long it will take. If you want to set one up, just call us at (770) 214-8885 or complete and submit this consultation request form.
Jason Perkins is an attorney who specializes in representing injured workers. He regularly publishes videos and write blog articles about Georgia’s workers compensation system and issues that are important to injured workers and their families.
To be notified of Jason’s new workers compensation videos, subscribe to his Georgia Workers Compensation Video Series channel on YouTube by clicking the subscribe button below.