Employees who are injured on the job are entitled by law to file a workers’ compensation claim, but often worry whether they can be fired for doing so. It is illegal to discriminate or retaliate against an employee for filing their claim. But there are instances when an employer can proceed with termination, so your job may not be protected while you’re on disability leave. Continue reading to learn more about the legality of being fired for filing a workers’ comp claim in California.
Workers’ Compensation: Protection from Retaliation
California is an at-will employment state. This means an employer can terminate or fire a worker at any time, for any legal reason. However, if you’re fired in retaliation for filing a claim, this is illegal. Examples include firing, reassigning, demotion, negative performance reviews, or creating a harsh work environment for that employee. Unexplained reductions in pay, work duties, or hours may be reasons for suspicion as well.
California Labor Code 132a establishes a policy that employers should not discriminate against their workers when they are injured in the workplace. California Labor Code 132a also provides damages for any employee who is discriminated against for filing (or intending to file) a workers’ compensation claim.
A Labor Code 132a claim may also wish to impose penalties against an employer who shows discriminatory actions against their worker. Firing, or threatening to fire, an employee because they filed a claim could result in a misdemeanor charge.
Workers’ compensation insurance companies are also not immune from this California law, particularly if an insurance company advises, directs, or threatens an employer to fire an employee because of a workers’ compensation claim.
Labor Code 132(a) prohibits employers in California from retaliating against workers for filing or planning to file for workers’ compensation benefits. Employers who do so face criminal prosecution under California law for a misdemeanor.
Workers’ Comp Does Not Always Protect Your Job
The law protects you from retaliation and discrimination. However, you can still be let go for legal reasons. For example, if there are layoffs in your department or throughout the company, it is typically not illegal to lose your job, whether you filed for workers’ comp or not. If you are unable to perform essential job functions, you may not get your job back. If poor work performance is the reason, a company can legally fire you.
In any case, when you go on leave, there is no guarantee you’ll be reinstated after you’ve reached full recovery. Like many states, California doesn’t require employers to keep job positions open indefinitely or offer a new one to accommodate your limitations. Whether you can make a claim for discrimination depends on the requirements of your job, the needs of the company, or whether any protected activities were violated.