When an injured worker files for workers’ compensation, the injured worker’s employment situation may change drastically. While an employer is not allowed to discriminate against the injured worker because they filed a workers’ compensation claim, an employer can terminate an employee for a number of other reasons.
Texas is an at will employment state, which means that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason at all, so long as the reason is not one that is protected by law. Similarly, an employee can quit for any reason in an at will employment situation. Certain employees are protected from being terminated for particular reasons by law. For instance, protected classes of workers are protected from being discriminated against, or terminated, on the bases of race, religion, skin color, sex, or national origin, under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Similarly, an injured worker cannot be fired simply for filing a workers’ compensation claim under the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act Section 451.001.
This is not to say that workers who file workers’ compensation claims are in the clear from being fired or laid off. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to terminate an injured employee. For instance:
- If the injured worker’s job is critical to business operations, and the work needs to get done, an employer will likely be justified in terminating the injured worker and replacing them;
- If the business is going through slow times, the employer may be justified in terminating an injured worker;
- If the business is undergoing a restructuring, the employer may be justified in terminating an injured worker; or
- If the injured worker is physically unable to perform their required job functions any longer due to their injury, and there are no suitable alternative work assignments for the injured worker, then the employer may be justified in terminating an injured worker.
However, if an employer does terminate an injured employee strictly because the worker filed a workers’ compensation claim, it could be the basis for a wrongful termination lawsuit against the employer. Stray comments by the employer, or by individuals within the company that are authorized to make hiring and firing decisions, regarding the injured worker filing for workers’ compensation could serve as good evidence that the employer’s “real” reason for terminating the injured worker is because the worker filed for workers’ compensation, and that the termination was retaliatory in nature. Any injured worker who believes that their employer terminated them because they filed a workers’ compensation claim should consult with an experienced Texas workers’ compensation lawyer immediately.