Unfortunately, the answer is yes. It is possible to be fired while you are not working due to an injury you sustained at work. It is against the law for you to be fired specifically for filing a workers compensation claim, but your employer generally does not have an obligation to hold your job open for you while you are off work recovering from your injury. Other than for certain unlawful reasons, if you are an “at-will” employee, you may be fired with or without cause at any time.
All states allow for at-will employment. Whether or not your job position falls within this category depends on the terms which you and your employer agreed to when you accepted your job. Generally, you are an at-will employee if you did not sign a contract with your employer that states that you cannot be terminated without good cause. Though there are exceptions, here in California, at-will employees can be terminated for any reason, unless that reason is unlawful.
Unlawful Reasons for Firing Employees
There are both federal and state laws that prohibit employers from firing their employees for certain unlawful reasons. These laws apply whether you are employed under an employment contract or whether you are an at-will employee.
Retaliation for Filing a Workers Compensation Claim
Retaliation is a common unlawful reason for firing someone within the context of a workers compensation claim. In California, Labor Code §132a prohibits employers from discriminating against injured workers. Therefore, an injured worker may have legal recourse if her employer fires are for being hurt at work or for simply filing a workers compensation claim.
Is My Employer Required to Keep My Job Open While I Am Undergoing Treatment for My Work-Related Injury?
Generally, no, even though you may be off work recovering from a work injury, there is no legal requirement that your employer must hold your job open for you while you are getting medical treatment related to your injury. If you are an employee with an employment contract, then this question would be answered by the terms of your contract. Your employer generally has a right to fill the position if you are no longer able to perform your job.
Light-Duty Work Restrictions
If you have a workers compensation claim, your treating physician may prescribe certain work restrictions. Generally, if your treating physician determines that you are unable to perform full-duty work at your job and that you are only capable of working within certain restrictions, your employer may or may not try to accommodate that. An example of this type of restriction would be if your doctor determined that you can only lift up to ten pounds. Your employer may be able to offer you a position that would accommodate your work restrictions, however, the work provided for you does not necessarily have to be anything like your normal job, it just has to be within your prescribed work restrictions.
If your employer is unable to accomodate, or chooses not to accommodate the recommended work restrictions, then its workers’ compensation insurance company will be required to pay you what is called “temporary total disability” (TTD) benefits.
Generally your employer has the discretion as to whether or not to hold your job open for you until you are able to resume your position at full duty. However, the workers’ compensation insurance company will likely be required to pay you TTD benefits when your employer fails to accommodate recommended work restrictions.
If you have been injured at work and are considering bringing a claim for workers’ compensation, contact us (707) 542-5132 or fill out our contact form to discuss your options.