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What Happens If I Lose My Job While On Workers' Compensation?

After suffering a workplace injury, many people are often eager to return to work as quickly as possible. Though workers’ compensation usually covers medical expenses and some of the employee’s lost wages, many workers are worried about what happens if they lose their jobs while they are out on workers’ compensation.

There are many reasons why an employer can fire their employee in Connecticut, but know that workers are generally protected from retaliation while they are receiving workers’ compensation. In some cases, employers may even be entitled to the protection of federal anti-discrimination laws. Attorney Robert Sciglimpaglia has spent years representing victims of workplace injuries and protecting their legal rights while they are recovering. If you believe you may have been wrongfully terminated while on workers’ compensation, call our office at (203) 663-2803 to tell us about your case.

What Is Workers’ Compensation?

Workers’ compensation allows employees who are injured on the job to recover medical expenses and lost wages through an insurance program. Generally, workers’ compensation bars employees from suing their employer directly for their injuries, but rather receive compensation through a pre-set insurance scheme that covers a proportion of their weekly wages, as well as medical expenses resulting from the injury and mileage reimbursement for medical travel. In cases where the employee dies from the workplace injury, workers’ compensation typically provides benefits to the employee’s beneficiaries, such as lost income and funeral expenses.

Can My Employer Fire Me While I Am on Workers’ Compensation?

Many employees that suffer injury or illness as a result of a work-related incident wonder what happens if they lose their jobs while they are out on workers’ compensation.

It is important to understand that being on workers’ compensation does not completely protect your job. Although your employer cannot fire you because you are on workers’ compensation, there are countless other reasons why an employee can be terminated.

At-Will Employment

Connecticut is an at-will employment state. This means that an employer can terminate an employee for almost any reason, as long as it is not illegal. Some common lawful reasons an employee may be terminated include:

⦁ Poor performance

⦁ Violating company policies or procedures

⦁ Reduction in force, or layoff

⦁ Restructuring

⦁ Any lawful purpose

Layoffs happen all the time, and while employers must be careful not to execute their layoffs in a discriminatory or unlawful manner, they are typically legal. So if you were discharged in a standard layoff, generally the employer was well within its rights to do so.

Retaliatory Termination

Although employers have wide discretion in when to let employees go, one legal restriction is that the employer cannot fire an employee just because they are collecting workers’ compensation. Under Connecticut Statutes Sec. 31-290a, employers shall not discharge, or cause to be discharged, or in any manner discriminate against any employee because the employee has filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits.

If an employee suspects the employer of committing a retaliatory termination, the employee has two options. First, the employee can bring a private civil action against the employer seeking reinstatement of their previous job, payment of back wages and reestablishment of employee benefits, and any other relevant damages. Second, the employee can report the discrimination to the Workers’ Compensation Commission, which will review the complaint and hold a hearing. In this case, the commissioner makes a decision, which the employer is bound to.

Note that the employee has the burden of proving that they were terminated because of their injury. This causal connection can be challenging to prove, which is why it is highly recommended that you consult with an experienced Connecticut workers’ compensation attorney for guidance.

After Clearance

Retaliatory termination does not apply to workers who have been cleared to return to work by a physician and fail to do so. Similarly, if an employee is cleared by a physician to return to work, but the employee is no longer qualified to perform the job because of a permanent disability, the employee may be discharged at that point as well.

Americans with Disabilities Act

In some cases, when an employee returns to work, they are entitled to some of the protections of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA protects qualified disabled employees from employment discrimination based on their disability. Under the ADA, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Generally, these disabilities must be permanent, so a temporary injury that will likely heal in a foreseeable amount of time is probably not protected under the ADA.

If the workplace injury did cause a physical disability under the ADA, the employer must not terminate the employee solely on the basis of that disability if the employee would be qualified for their job with or without a reasonable accommodation. Not every workplace injury will rise to the level of a disability, but it is important to know your rights under the ADA to ensure you were not terminated for an unlawful reason.

Can I Still Receive Workers’ Comp Benefits If I Am Fired?

Generally, yes, workers on disability can continue to receive workers’ compensation benefits even if they are discharged while on leave. Usually, these benefits continue to cover the injured employee until they are able to work again. Therefore, if you are laid off while receiving workers’ comp benefits, they should not change. Even if you had returned to work but were receiving partial disability payments, those should continue as well. If you were laid off while on workers’ compensation, you may want to speak with an attorney to ensure you are still receiving all of the benefits you are legally entitled to.

Speak to an Experienced Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Attorney

Attorney Robert Sciglimpaglia has been representing victims of workplace injuries for years. He understands that the period spent recovering from an on-the-job injury is an extremely vulnerable time. Medical expenses and lost wages add up quickly, and the last thing a victim needs is to worry about not having a job to come back to. Call our office at (203) 663-2803 to speak with an experienced Connecticut workers’ comp lawyer. If you are concerned about what will happen if you lose your job while on workers’ compensation, allow us to ease your mind by guiding you as to your legal rights.