Imagine the following scenario: you’ve always been a good, reliable employee, up to and including when you slipped at work and suffered an injury that meant you would have to miss a few weeks. As a result you filed for workers’ compensation to help you get through that time, and once you’re all healed up you return to work, only to find that things have changed once you get back. Your boss, usually warm and friendly, seems suddenly cold. Then, he tells you that he’s cutting your hours back by half for “business reasons.” What do you do?
It’s Illegal to Retaliate
First, there’s something that must be made abundantly clear: for the vast majority of states, it’s expressly illegal for any employer to take retaliatory steps against any one of its workers in the event that they make a claim against the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. This is true even in cases of “at will” employment states like Nevada.
Companies are banned by law for disciplining, firing, threatening to fire, or taking any other negative actions against an employee that suffered an injury on the job and filed a workers’ comp claim. If your employer does indeed retaliate against you for availing yourself of your legal rights under your state’s workers’ compensation system, they’re on the wrong side of the law and they could have just exposed themselves to some rather steep legal penalties.
The Problem in Proving Retaliation
However, it’s not easy to prove that your employer has indeed retaliated against you sometimes. Just because you can’t be retaliated against after a workplace injury doesn’t mean that issues independent of your injury can’t have an effect on your employment status. If the company you’re employed by needs to reduce its costs and one of the most effective ways is to limit employee hours or even lay them off, it’s not a case of retaliation – as long as you weren’t singled out for being given a pink slip. Likewise if you were demonstrating poor performance before your workplace injury and your quarterly review recommends letting you go because of that poor performance, that’s also not necessarily a case of retaliation either.
The problem is, of course, in being able to determine if it’s a case of retaliation or if it’s just an employment decision that doesn’t take your workers’ comp claim into account. If it turns out that you were retaliated against in the form of your hours being cut back – and the state workers’ compensation review board’s investigation agrees with that assessment – the laws in your state will hit your employer rather hard. For example, if you’re employed in the state of California you could end up collecting a penalty fee, your benefits under your compensation claim will experience a 50 percent increase up to $10,000, and you could even end up with your employer being forced to provide you with your normal work hours once more.