Can I be laid off while on workers' comp leave?

Learn about the rules for when employers can and can't lay off or fire injured employees who've filed workers' comp claims.

Question

I am suffering from a repetitive stress injury, similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, from computer use at work. While I was away from work recovering, my employer informed me that I was going to be laid off as part of a workforce reduction. Isn't this illegal? I thought my job was protected under workers' compensation while my injury prevents me from working.

Answer

The answer largely depends on the reason for your employer's action. If your employer laid you off because you were on workers' compensation leave, that might indeed be a case of illegal retaliation. However, if your employer would have laid you off even if you were still on the job, the fact that you are away from work on temporary disability leave doesn't necessarily protect you from a layoff or other termination. If that sounds like legal hairsplitting, read on.

All states have laws that prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who ask for and/or receive workers' compensation benefits. An employer cannot fire, demote, harass, lay off, or otherwise harm these employees because they are exercising their rights under the workers' comp system. An employee who has been the victim of unlawful retaliation can sue the employer for wrongful termination.

In most states, however, employers aren't required to give special treatment to employees just because they're out on temporary disability leave. Employers in these states may lay off or fire injured employees who are on leave for any legal reason (meaning that it's not illegal retaliation). (Learn more about whether and where injured employees have job-protected workers' comp leave.)

If you believe you may have been targeted for the reduction in workforce specifically because you filed a workers' comp claim and were out on temporary disability, you should speak to a lawyer. There may be short time limits for claiming that your employer has retaliated against you. An attorney who's experienced in workers' compensation can look at the facts of your case, explain how the law in your state applies to your situation, and help protect your rights.

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