At-Will States And Workers Compensation: Can You Lose Your Job?

Many people think if they file a workers compensation claim in an "at will" state, it can cause them to lose their job. You may even assume the employer will fire you just to avoid paying out. Thankfully, that's not how workers compensation works. Here's what you need to know about your job status when you file a WC claim in an at-will state.

The At-Will Exceptions

At-will employment gives employers the power to dismiss an employee at any time, and for any reason. In turn, the employee also has the right to leave a position when they feel like it.

What many people don't know is at-will employment also comes with exceptions. Those exceptions can include:

  • Public policy exceptions, if the firing violates a law or statute.
  • Implied contract exceptions, if the firing violates the terms of a contract.

A violation of a law typically implies discrimination of some type, which is always illegal. Workers compensation is a part of state and federal public policy. Therefore, it works as a public policy exception to at-will termination.

How At-Will Employment Can Affect Workers Compensation

Employers cannot dismiss employees specifically because of pending or ongoing workers compensation cases. If an employer were to dismiss someone because of WC, it would fall under the EEOC's laws against retaliatory discipline.

In an at-will state, the employer would need only to say they dismissed you for a reason unrelated to your WC case. Any cause the employer would normally have for dismissing an employee still qualifies.

For example, poor performance or frequent absences can lead to employment termination. If you injure yourself on the job and file WC, your employer may find it the perfect time to bring up some past issues.

The employer has the right to dismiss you for such reasons whether you're on WC or not. In addition, the employer doesn't have to keep your position open for you if you're away from work because of your injury.

So, it's possible for you to lose your job after you're already out. In such cases, the employer can simply say they cannot operate efficiently without filling your position.

At-Will Dismissals Cannot Occur as Retaliation

An employer can come up with any number of reasons to let you go as a form of retaliation. If you suspect the possibility of retaliation, speak to a workers compensation lawyer immediately. The burden of proving retaliation is on you, so make sure you gather as much information and evidence as you can to prove your claim.