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Can I Be Fired for My Workers' Compensation Claim?

Posted on in BGL Law

workers' compensation claimMany people get nervous about filing for workers' compensation because they are afraid that their employer will terminate them in retaliation. Fortunately, employees have an option in those circumstances. The Illinois Workers' Compensation Act forbids any employer from interfering with an employee's ability to file for workers' compensation or to discriminate against them as a result of filing a claim. Illinois courts have interpreted that portion of the law to give fired employees a right to bring a lawsuit for retaliatory discharge, if they can show that the firing was motivated by the filing of the workers' compensation claim.

Retaliatory Discharge

Retaliatory discharge claims are a legal tool that wrongfully-terminated employees can use to receive things like back pay and a reinstatement to their old positions. In order to prevail on a retaliatory discharge claim for workers' compensation, the employee must prove three things. First, they must show that they were an employee before the injury. Although the worker was clearly employed prior to the injury, they were not necessarily an employee, which is a special legal term. The test for whether a worker was an employee revolves around the amount of control and supervision that the employer exercised over the worker. The more control, the more likely someone is to be counted as an employee.

After showing that they are an employee, they must then demonstrate that they actually exercised some right that the Workers' Compensation Act provides. If they can do that, then they must show that their exercising that right was the “proximate cause” of their being fired, meaning that it was “a cause that, in the natural or ordinary course of events,” led to the termination. This is often the most difficult part of the case.

Proving the Employer's Motive

Proving the employer's motive for the termination can be the trickiest part of a retaliatory discharge claim because it represents an exception from ordinary Illinois law. Usually, Illinois law creates an “at-will” employment situation, meaning that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason. However, there are a few reasons that are improper, such as racial discrimination or retaliation for a workers' compensation claim. The difficult part is proving that that was the reason for the termination.

An employer will likely raise some other reason, such as bad work ethic, absenteeism, or some other pretext for the termination. However, at least one Illinois court has found that the existence of another reason for the termination is not necessarily enough to shield the employer, if the workers' compensation claim was also a cause that naturally led to the termination.

On-the-job accidents can lead to serious injuries, and people should not be afraid to seek recovery for them. If you have been hurt on the job, contact a skilled Crystal Lake workers' compensation attorney today.
Illinois State Bar Association State Bar of Wisconsin Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce Illinois Trial Lawyers Association McHenry County Bar Association
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