Injured at Work? You May Have More Than Just a Workers' Compensation Claim.
My name is Paul. For several years I worked as a full-time Packer in a warehouse with about 200 employees. My job involved packing and lifting heavy boxes. I sprained my back on the job and filed a workers' compensation claim. The workers' compensation doctor recommended a back brace, six weeks of physical therapy, and a leave of absence for the same duration. I asked my employer for six weeks off work, which was approved. When I returned to the doctor six weeks later, however, the doctor recommended an extra month off work. So, I asked my employer to extend my leave of absence by one month. I was fired the same day. I believe that my employer retaliated against me for filing a workers' compensation claim. Can I do anything about it?
Yes. Paul may have several claims under federal law, including claims under both the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). This post will focus on Paul's claims under the FMLA.
Believe it or not, unlike most states, Georgia does not prohibit employers from firing employees who file workers' compensation claims.
Under the Georgia Workers' Compensation Act, employees have no remedy for retaliatory discharge for filing workers’ compensation claims. See Evans v. Bibb Co., 178 Ga. App. 139, 140, 342 S.E.2d 484, 486 (1986) (refusing to recognize a public policy exception to an employer's right to discharge an employee at will when that right is exercised in retaliation for the employee's assertion of his rights under the Georgia Workers' Compensation Act). Under federal law, however, employees (like Paul) may have several causes of action against employers that retaliate against them for filing workers' compensation claims.
Paul's employer interfered with his rights under the FMLA.
An employer cannot interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise FMLA rights. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1). Under the FMLA, an "eligible employee" can take up to 12 weeks of leave during any 12-month period because of a serious health condition that prevents the employee from performing his job. 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(d).
Here, Paul was an "eligible employee" because he worked for his employer for at least 12 months, he worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period before he requested leave, and he worked at a location with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. Paul's employer interfered with his FMLA rights in numerous ways. First, Paul's employer failed to notify Paul of his FMLA rights. Second, Paul's employer fired Paul for requesting leave for a total of 10 weeks (two weeks less than his FMLA leave entitlement) to recover from his back injury.
Paul's employer retaliated against him in violation of the FMLA.
An employer cannot retaliate against an employee for having exercised or attempted to exercise FMLA rights. 29 C.F.R. § 925.220(c). To establish a retaliation claim under the FMLA, an employee must show that (1) he invoked the right to take FMLA leave, (2) he suffered an adverse employment action, and (3) the adverse action is causally connected to the exercise of FMLA rights.
Here, Paul's termination violates the FMLA's anti-retaliation provision. First, Paul notified his employer that he had a serious medical condition and, as a result, needed to take leave. Second, Paul was terminated. Third, the termination occurred the same day that Paul requested to extend his leave.
Paul should not delay taking legal action.
FMLA claims are subject to a statute of limitations. In order for Paul to preserve his FMLA claims, he must file a lawsuit against his employer within two years of the FMLA violation, or three years if the violation was "willful."
If you have been wrongfully terminated because you were injured at work, please contact us for a FREE case evaluation.