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Fired After a Work Injury

Donna* is an assistant in a senior assisted living facility. Most of the residents are highly mobile and rarely need help getting in and out of bed or assisted with walking. Donna’s work duties include light housekeeping for residents, assistance with getting dressed for outings, assistance with food prep and other basic needs. One afternoon, when she was walking to the outdoor garden with Mrs. May, Donna noticed another resident, Mrs. Adams, struggling to get off the ground. Mrs. Adams was weeding around the perimeter of the garden and while she had been advised to ask for help, she rarely complied. Donna helped Mrs. Adams up, but as she backed away, she tripped on the pile of Mrs. Adams’ weeds and twisted her ankle. She was able to slowly walk back to the nurse’s station for an ice pack and elevation, but Donna’s ankle got progressively worse after she returned home. When she went to the doctor the next morning, x-rays showed that she had a torn ligament and a hairline fracture in an “old injury.”

Her doctor prescribed pain meds, a walking cast, specific exercises, a week and a half off of work and light work duty once she returned to work. Donna expressed her worry that she would be permanently demoted if she took time off or requested a lighter work load, but her doctor insisted that she must if she wants to heal faster. She was also concerned that she may be fired, but her doctor told her that she shouldn’t be due to her work injury. When Donna returned to work, her supervisor was helpful, agreeable, and created light work for Donna. A couple of days later, 5 residents in the facility came down with the flu and needed lots of attention and assistance. Donna tried the best she could, while sticking to doctor’s orders, but sensed her supervisor was frustrated. After a particularly trying day, Donna’s supervisor told Donna that she should stay home until the residents get back on their feet; as they needed someone who could do more physical assistance.

Donna immediately sensed her job was at risk, but followed her supervisor’s orders. Donna checked in, via phone, every day. After a week, Donna got a call from her supervisor who told her that they were going to “let her go” because her recent job performance was not satisfactory. Donna filed for workers’ compensation and began looking for other work, additionally; she consulted with a workers’ compensation lawyer.

Hurt on the Job: Can you be Fired?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011 alone, there were a total of 2,986,500 reported nonfatal injuries and/or illnesses in the workplace. Of those reported cases, 908,300 involved days away from work. Workers’ Compensation Laws protect people who are injured on the job and are designed to ensure that employees, who are injured or disabled on the job, are provided with benefits without needing to take legal action.

In several states, an injured employee is entitled to receive weekly temporary total benefits if the employee misses more than seven days from work. During the time that an employee misses work, however, there is no law preventing an employer from dismissing the worker. While it is unlawful to fire someone for their work related injury, it is still legal to fire the injured worker for other reasons.

While Donna’s supervisor fired her for “unsatisfactory work”, Donna strongly suspects it was due to the injury she suffered while on the job. Because she missed over seven days from work, Donna is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits and because she was fired, she may be able to have an extension of workers’ compensation benefits until she finds another job. Donna’s choice to consult a workers’ compensation lawyer was wise as Workers’ Compensation Law can be confusing and is rarely “cut and dry”.

If you were injured on the job, make sure you report the injury. You are entitled to benefits, but you are unable to receive them if you’re too afraid to file because you might get fired. Would you rather struggle, financially, after a work related injury or have the assistance you deserve?