Many employees become a target after reporting an on-the-job injury. It doesn’t matter whether it’s carpal tunnel from repetitive tasks, a slip-and-fall, or a construction accident. And it doesn’t matter if it was unavoidable. Employers get angry. Why? Because (1) the injury claim will raise their insurance costs, (2) they think the employee is faking/exaggerating, (3) they think the employee is likely to be reinjured and (4) they think the employee won’t be productive. Sometimes even coworkers get mad because they have to help cover the workload.
Employer retaliation against injured workers is so bad that many states, including Florida, allow you to sue and recover damages if your employer harasses, fires, demotes or otherwise retaliates against you for reporting the injury and asking for workers’ compensation benefits.
Here’s my checklist if you’ve been injured on the job:
- Report the injury or suspected injury immediately. Delays in reporting jeopardize your rights. Report the problem even if you feel it might go away. I’m not suggesting you report truly minor injuries, like a modest paper cut or a headache. But for meaningful physical injuries (heard, neck, wrist, arm, ankle, shoulder or back injuries), don’t wait. The full extent of a real injury can take time to fully appear. There’s no harm from reporting an injury that quickly disappears. The real harm comes from not reporting at all, or from delays in reporting.
- Go up the chain of command if the supervisor doesn’t take your claim seriously. Many bosses will ignore initial reports. My clients have heard things like this:
- “Oh, just get up and shake it off. You’re not hurt. I had that happen to me once. You’ll be fine.”
- “Just sit down for awhile. I’ll have someone fill in. Take an hour and come back.”
- “Go ahead and take the rest of the day off. You’ll be good as new tomorrow.”
- “You didn’t do that on the job. I’m not going to have you claim that. Go back to work.”
- “I’ll report it if you want, but I’m telling you, they’ll fire you. They need you at 100%. Just take a break and get back to work.”
- Be sure your claim is documented. There is a form your employer must use. Ask your employer to fill out a “First Report of Injury” and give you a copy. The form looks like this.
- If you’re fired, taken off the schedule, have your hours cut or suffer harassment, contact an employee rights lawyer immediately.
- If your employer fires you before documenting your report, you can still make a claim. Some employees immediately fired following an on-the-job injury. Bosses think they can avoid a claim this way. That’s false. A fired employee can always still pursue benefits.
- Beware bosses who takes you to a walk-in clinic and pay with cash or a credit card. Some bosses use a personal or company account to avoid triggering a workers’ compensation claim. That’s to avoid reporting the injury properly. Your employer has full insurance for your job-related injury and it covers all your care if you properly report the claim. A boss or company that pays for a single visit this way is cheating the system – and you. Other health insurance will not cover physical injuries suffered on the job, so use it to reach full recovery.
- Do not settle your workers’ compensation claim without seeing a lawyer. Workers’ comp insurance adjusters may pressure you to quickly settle your claim. Don’t do it without getting legal advice from a lawyer you choose. Why? Because an adjuster may downplay the severity of your injury and, with it, grossly underpay you to settle the claim. In matters of insurance, adjusters are your adversary, no matter how friendly they sound. Their job is to get out of the claim cheaply. They never want you to get independent advice.
How to Find An Employee Rights Lawyer (And How to Spot Pretenders)
And if anyone gets in your way, reach out to an employee rights lawyer. How to find the right one for you? My view:
- Find a lawyer who only handles employment law cases. Why? For the same reason you want an expert in brain surgery when you suffer a brain injury. There are doctors who work on toes, arms, dog bites and fevers, and they might gladly do your brain surgery. But the fact they will do it doesn’t mean they should. Lawyers, same thing. A law firm that advertises for car accidents one day, hurricane cases the next, and phone solicitation cases the next doesn’t spend all its time in the area where a high level of skill is critical. Their ads may sound great, but their ads can’t win your case. Expertise can.
- Find a lawyer who only represents employees in employment cases. A lawyer who also helps employers against employees may not truly believe in your fight.
- Look for a lawyer with provable, deep experience fighting employers. Any lawyer can advertise for any kind of case. It doesn’t mean they have expertise. I heard a radio ad yesterday from a two-lawyer firm that holds itself out as a personal injury law firm. Their new ad? “Need an employment lawyer? Call us.” Business must be slow for them. I looked in the federal case database and did not find a single case where either of the lawyers had ever handled a federal employment case. Zero. You can look up a lawyers’ experience in the PACER.gov database. Always do that, or ask the lawyer to give you a printout of their federal cases. (It’s public record.)
- Find a lawyer who offers free consultations and who only handles cases on a no-fee-if-no-recovery basis. Run as fast as you can from any lawyer who wants to handle your employment case on an hourly basis. Look for someone willing to bet their own money on the outcome.
Employee Rights Lawyer, Florida & Georgia