Getting injured at work and then losing your job – that’s a bad combination, but it happens to some people. If you are that unlucky person who suffered a work injury and are furloughed, laid off, or terminated by your employer, we’re here to explain the law to you.
The COVID-19 crisis has required many employers to furlough or lay off some or all of their employees. A furlough is essentially a temporary layoff where it is expected that the employer will re-call the employee at some point. A layoff is normally permanent.
As far as your workers’ comp. case is concerned, it’s not likely to make a difference if you are furloughed or laid off. Suppose you injured yourself on the job, went out of work and started to collect full benefits (called total disability benefits), and returned to work with restrictions (for example, you only had to lift 20 pounds as opposed to 50 pounds that you would normally lift when doing your job). If you went back part-time with a wage loss, you will receive partial disability benefits to make up the difference; if you returned full-time with no wage loss, your workers’ comp. benefits will be suspended. If you are then furloughed or laid off, the workers’ comp. insurance company for your employer is required to reinstate you to total disability benefits. The rationale behind the law is that if you are under restrictions due to a work injury, and your job is no longer available through no fault of yours, your wage loss is a result of your work injury and you should be compensated by receiving total disability benefits.
However, if you returned to work following your injury with no restrictions – in other words, you are doing your regular job that you were doing at the time of your injury – and then you are furloughed or laid off, don’t expect the insurance company to reinstate your workers’ comp. benefits, even if you continue to have pain from your injury and are still undergoing medical treatment. This is because your loss of wages under this scenario is not attributable to your work injury since you were doing your regular job anyway. In order to get your benefits reinstated and start to receive checks again, you would have to show that your work injury has worsened to the point that you are unable to work.
Let’s look at another series of hypotheticals. You’re back to work with restrictions following your injury, and your employer terminates you. They didn’t furlough you because of COVID-19 or some other reason, they didn’t lay you off due to a downturn in business, they fired you. The first issue that will affect whether you are entitled to a reinstatement of your workers’ comp. benefits is the reason for your termination: Were you terminated for cause? Stated another way, did you engage in bad faith behavior or misconduct that precipitated your termination? If your boss didn’t think you did anything in particular wrong – you just weren’t a good fit for the job – the insurance company should reinstate you to total disability benefits because you were not terminated for cause, and your loss of wages stems back to your work injury.
The situation is different if you engaged in some bad behavior – for example, you pleaded guilty to selling illegal drugs or you assaulted one of your co-workers — the insurance company will almost certainly decline to reinstate your benefits on the basis that you were terminated for cause, and therefore your loss of wages is due to your misconduct, not your work injury.
You will have a better chance of refuting this argument if the actions which led to your termination occurred before your injury as opposed to after it. If you had some disagreements with your supervisor and he claimed you were being disrespectful and gave you a warning, then you injured yourself, and subsequently you were fired for insubordination which had allegedly happened before your injury, a Workers’ Compensation Judge is likely to be more skeptical that your employer had cause to terminate you. If you were really being insubordinate to the extent that termination was warranted, why weren’t you fired then? Why did they wait until after you injured yourself and pursued a workers’ compensation claim? You will have more of an uphill battle, though, if your conduct in question occurred after you were injured.
It’s bad enough that you hurt yourself at work – throw in a furlough, layoff, or termination, and your stress level will be through the roof. You need the law firm of Pearson Koutcher on your side. We specialize in workers’ compensation cases and our experienced lawyers know the law backwards and forwards. If you find yourself in this situation – or if you have not lost your job but have been injured and have a lot of questions – please call us right away for a free, prompt consultation. We would be thrilled to represent you to make sure that you receive all of the workers’ comp. benefits which you deserve.