Florida has a powerful law protecting employees who are injured on the job and make, or even attempt to make, a workers compensation claim. The law can even protect employees who are injured but immediately fired and are therefore unable to even make an initial request for coverage. If you’ve been injured on the job and were fired under circumstances that lead you to think that injury was at least one of the reasons behind the firing, you should immediately contact an employee-rights lawyer who is an expert in the field. (I also represent Georgia employees but, unfortunately, the state of Georgia has not yet passed a law specifically preventing retaliation for on-the-job injuries. So this particular article focuses exclusively on the rights of injured Florida employees.)
In the typical Florida workplace, about 10% of the employees are fired for one reason or another on an annual basis. But employees who are injured on the job are fired at a rate of about 80%. In other words, if you take the typical workforce, one in ten of those employees will not be there if you come back in a year. But if you gather together all the employees who have suffered an on-the-job injury, about 80% of that group will be gone within 12 months. Statistics show that employees who make workers compensation claims immediately become targets for harassment and termination, and are fired at far higher rates than others in the workplace.
Why? There are several reasons.
One is that the cost of workers’ compensation insurance skyrockets even after a single claim is made against the policy. Companies pay a fortune for workers compensation insurance even if they have a perfect history without any claims. When claims start to roll in, the premiums for this coverage go through the ceiling. That often creates powerful resentment by company bosses and can lead to swift retaliation and firing against the injured employee. Another reason is that many supervisors wrongly think that an injured employee is faking, or will simply be re-injured and cause more problems, or will continue to cost the company money for years.
The Florida Legislature took note of this sharply-higher rate of firing for injured workers and adopted a law that protects employees that are injured and need workers compensation insurance benefits. The law prohibits retaliation for making a claim or trying to make a claim, and allows affected employees to sue for money damages.
How can you tell if your employer’s conduct following your on-the-job injury amounts to illegal retaliation under the law? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Was your injury one of significance? Paper cuts, or an occasional bruise or backache, may not amount to anything. But injuries that are likely to require medical care and multiple visits or ongoing treatment may result in bogus writeups or termination in an effort to get you out of the workplace and cut off the employer’s expenses.
- Did supervisors discourage you in any way from seeking medical care? I’ve had an incredible number of injured employees tell me about supervisors who told them to get up and shake off the injury, or who blame them for being injured (e.g., “I can’t believe how stupid you are. Why didn’t you watch where you’re going?”)
- Did supervisors or bosses make derogatory or insulting comments to you about the injury? In one recent case, a client told me about supervisors who were extremely angry that the injury required the company to start the “Injury-Free Days” clock over again and take down a sign that boasted of 950 consecutive days without an injury in the workplace. My client’s injury required the company to put up a new sign instead – one that read “1 Day without Injury.” As silly as that sounds, it greatly angered the supervisors, who fired my client soon after the injury on bogus grounds.
- Did you begin write-ups, counseling, discipline or termination notice not long after the injury? Some supervisors will begin harassing you within weeks after an injury, and will continue to do so for months until you quit or are fired. You may have a strong claim for workers compensation retaliation even if the termination takes place as much as a year after the original injury.
- Is the cost of medical care substantial? I had one client who had an injury to his fingertips after he closed a heavy metal door on it, leading to medical care over the next year that eventually cost the company’s insurer more than $200,000.00. The employer harassed him, gave him bogus writeups, had him followed by private investigators to see if he was faking his injury, and eventually fired him.
I have represented many employees in workplace injury cases where the employer took action against my client after a legitimate on-the-job injury. It happens, and it happens a lot. Many employers, and many employees, don’t even realize that harassing an employee for seeking workers compensation benefits is illegal and can lead to large verdicts in favor of the employee.
If you think you’ve suffered an on-the-job injury and then retaliated against as a result, reach out immediately to a lawyer with expertise in employee-rights cases. Be sure the lawyer you hire specializes in representing employees only. There are many fine lawyers that only represent employers, or that represent both employers and employees, but my personal opinion is that the best lawyer is one who is a committed advocate for employee rights and doesn’t split their time helping employers fight employees. Ask questions. Lawyer advertisements are not required to tell you many important details that you may want to know in choosing an attorney.