Can my employer cut my hours after I file a worker’s comp claim?

Question:

I’m a dishwasher at a restaurant in California. A few months ago, I slipped and fell in the kitchen and injured my shoulder. At the time, I took a few weeks off work and got treatment. My doctor said I could return to work and see how things went with my shoulder. So far, my shoulder has been okay, but I’ve noticed that my supervisor’s attitude towards me has changed. I think he’s upset that I filed a workers’ comp claim. A few days ago, out of nowhere, he told me that my hours were being cut in half. I’ve always performed well at work, and I don’t think anyone else’s hours are being cut. Can my employer do this?  

Answer:

Under California law, and the laws of most states, it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for filing a workers’ comp claim. Employers cannot discipline, fire, threaten to fire, or take other negative actions against employees who have been injured at work and have filed workers’ comp claims. Employers are, however, allowed to continue to run their businesses and take employment actions based on legitimate business reasons.

The key question is whether your employer is cutting your hours for a legitimate business reason or whether it is in retaliation for your workers’ comp claim. If you were having performance problems at work before your injuries, or if the company was cutting back hours for all dishwashers, that might be evidence that your employer is acting for legitimate reasons. But, if you have no performance issues and you’re the only one whose hours are being reduced, it starts to look like you’re being singled out because of your workers’ comp claim.

If your employer is in fact retaliating against you, there are laws to protect you. California Labor Code 132a specifically prohibits retaliation against injured workers and makes it a misdemeanor crime for an employer to do so. You can also collect a penalty if you successfully prove your retaliation claim. Your workers’ comp benefits will be increased by 50%, up to a maximum of $10,000. You may also receive pay for your lost wages as a result of the reduction in hours, as well as reimbursement for attorneys’ fees and costs in pursuing the retaliation claim (up to $250). And, your employer will most likely be required to give you back your normal work hours.  

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