In a perfect world, the law would tell us what is allowed, and everyone would follow it. Unfortunately, the law is flawed in an important way: You cannot stop people for disregarding it. The same is true of your employer. If you are injured on the job, the Alabama Worker’s Compensation Code (Title 25, Chapter 5) provides your expressed rights as a worker to be compensated for your injuries. The law also says that your employer cannot terminate you solely for filing your claim. This, of course, does not stop unscrupulous employers from doing just that.
What is Workers’ Compensation?
Before the Twentieth Century, injured workers had few rights. If a person was hurt on the job, he or she had to take the employer to court and prove that there was negligence, the same as any other type of general civil action. But work often comes with heightened risks; a construction worker can be injured, even when there is no negligence at play.
Likewise, employers feared the potential for large verdicts. Therefore, workers’ compensation laws were created to strike a balance and ensure that injured workers could be compensated fairly, without proving negligence. At the same time, employers would have more certainty and be in a better position to manage their risks. Unfortunately, despite the goals of the worker’s compensation system, injured workers often still find themselves in an unequal bargaining position with employers.
What Prevents an Employer from Retaliating?
Under Section 25-5-11.1 of the Alabama Code, an employer may not terminate an employee for either of the following reasons:
- Filing a claim for benefits against the employer OR
- Filing written notice that the employer has violated a safety rule
What does “Solely” Mean?
While it may seem obvious, the law says an employer cannot fire you “solely” because you filed a worker’s compensation claim. However, there is a lot of gray area in that term. Employers often look for other “pretexts” for termination, such as claiming the termination was for some other, unrelated cause. However, an experienced employment attorney can assist you in reviewing the facts of your case to determine if, indeed, the reasons given for the termination were simply pretexts for retaliation.
How can I Prove My Employer Retaliated?
It is not easy, but in order to prove retaliation, courts generally require the employee to prove four things:
- He or she was an employee;
- There was an injury while on-the-job;
- The employer had actual knowledge of the injury; and
- The termination was based solely on the employee filing a claim for compensation
Once the employee presents evidence of these four elements, the burden shifts to the employer to prove some legitimate grounds for termination that do not have anything to do with retaliation.
In one notable Alabama Supreme Court decision, an employer argued that the employee was terminated shortly after filing for workers’ compensation, but the termination was due to several no-call, no-show absences. The Court, however, was quick to point out that the employer was not consistent in applying its policy concerning no-call, no-shows, and therefore it “raised the possibility of a pretext.” See Foster v. North Am. Bus Industries., Inc., 1150716 (April 28, 2017).
What to do if You are Fired for Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim
Not all attorneys who handle workers’ compensation are prepared to represent clients in retaliatory discharge cases. If you suspect your employer is violating your rights by unlawfully firing you, contact 5 Points Law Group today for a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys about your case.