If you are currently out of work due to a job-related injury, your employer cannot legally terminate your employment based on your decision to file for workers’ compensation. You can be terminated for other reasons, but your employer must be able to provide a valid explanation.
According to data from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), approximately three percent of workers suffer a job-related injury or illness each year. While not all of these injuries and illnesses force employees to miss time from work, many of them do. For those who are unable to perform their job duties for a period of time, missing days, weeks, or months understandably raises concerns about how their employer will view their value to the company.
Fortunately, New Jersey law provides clear protections for injured employees who file for workers’ compensation. In New Jersey, your employer cannot legally terminate your employment based on your decision to file for benefits. Covered employees have the statutory right to collect benefits when they get injured within the scope of their employment (subject to only very limited exceptions), and employers cannot take adverse employment action based on an employee’s decision to seek benefits to which he or she is legally entitled.
Retaliation against Employees Who File for Workers’ Compensation Is Illegal in New Jersey
Terminating an employee (or taking other adverse employment action against an employee) based on his or her decision to file for workers’ compensation is referred to as “retaliation.” This form of retaliation is illegal in New Jersey and most, if not all, other states across the country. The anti-retaliation provisions of state workers’ compensation laws are designed specifically to ensure that employees do not feel pressured not to file for benefits.
If an employer terminates an employee in violation of New Jersey’s anti-retaliation law, then the employee is entitled to legal remedies either in the form of damages (financial compensation) or in the form of reinstatement in some circumstances. In some cases, employees may be able to collect punitive damages as well. While some retaliation claims go to court, they can be (and often are) settled, and this provides the employer and employee with some flexibility to formulate a mutually-agreeable resolution.
It Is Illegal to Terminate an Employee Who Is Receiving Workers’ Compensation Benefits for a Valid Business Purpose
Although employees who file for workers’ compensation are protected against retaliatory termination in New Jersey, filing for benefits does not guarantee job security. Employees who are receiving benefits can still be terminated for valid business purposes, including downsizing and corporate restructuring. If your position is being eliminated for reasons unrelated to your job-related injury and your decision to file for benefits, then you can be fired while you are out on workers’ compensation.
However, in order for a termination to be lawful, the business purpose behind the decision must be legitimate – and there should be documentation to prove it. If a purported business justification is merely a pretext for retaliating against an injured employee, then it will not protect the employer.
What Should You Do If You Are Fired While Out on Disability?
With these considerations in mind, what should you do if you are fired while you are out of work and receiving workers’ compensation disability benefits? Our New Jersey workers’ compensation lawyers recommend the following.
- Keep all documentation. Be sure to keep all documentation you have related to your injury, your workers’ compensation claim, your benefits, and your termination.
- Do not talk to your coworkers. While it may be tempting to reach out to your coworkers and try to figure out what happened, right now, you should keep the matter to yourself.
- Do not lash out at your employer on social media. Similarly, you should not say negative things about your employer on social media.
- Continue with your medical treatment. If your employer terminates you in retaliation, it may also terminate your benefits. Even if this happens, you should still keep up with your treatment.
- Speak with a workers’ compensation attorney. Even if your employer has tried to justify your termination, you should still speak with a workers’ compensation lawyer to find out if you have a claim for retaliation.
Request a Confidential Consultation at Petro Cohen
If you have been fired from your job while out on disability, we encourage you to contact the workers’ compensation team at Petro Cohen, P.C. for a free and confidential consultation about your legal rights.
Petro Cohen, P.C. has been consistently recognized as one of New Jersey’s leading firms in the area of workers’ comp. The firm received the highest rating by Martindale-Hubbell – the world’s foremost authority on law firm credentials – in Professional Excellence and Ethical Standards and Legal Ability.
In addition to the firm’s stellar reputation, the department head, Frank Petro, is respected locally, regionally, and nationally as a leading attorney in this specialized field. He has been recognized as an outstanding attorney by Best Lawyers® every year since 1995 and by Super Lawyers® every year since 2005. Moreover, he has achieved a rating of “Superb” on the leading lawyer-review website, Avvo®, the highest achievable rating.
Combined with Suzanne Holz Meola, Terri Hiles, and Daniel Rosenthal, our New Jersey workers’ comp attorneys have more than 100 years of experience, having successfully handled thousands of litigated workers’ comp cases throughout New Jersey. This experience and winning track record means that you are going to have a skilled New Jersey work injury lawyer who will work for you.
For your convenience, we have four offices in southern New Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Hamilton, Northfield, and Cape May Court House. Our attorneys and staff can be reached Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM until 5:30 PM, and 24/7 via e-mail (info@PetroCohen.com) and live chat through PetroCohen.com
Don’t gamble with your legal rights. To speak with one of our experienced New Jersey workers’ compensation lawyers in confidence, call Petro Cohen, P.C. (888-675-7607) or inquire online today.