Can I Be Fired After I File a Workers’ Compensation Claim in Florida?  The Answer May Surprise You

The phrase “adding insult to injury” comes to mind when contemplating the situation in which a person is fired from his or her job after being injured while working at that very same job.  Is it unfair?  Yes.  Can it happen in Florida?  Absolutely.

Unfortunately for hard-working Floridians, Florida’s workers’ compensation law – the Florida Workers’ Compensation Act – does not have a provision that stops employers from firing an employee after the employee is injured on the job.  In other words, an employer is not required to “hold” a job position open for an employee while they are recovering from a job-related injury.

So, the short answer to whether you can be fired after you file a workers’ compensation claim is “yes.”

However, there is an important distinction of which you should be aware.  The answer to whether you can be fired because you filed a workers’ compensation claim is “no.”  Simply put, even though an employer can fire you after you file for workers’ compensation, filing for workers’ compensation itself cannot be the reason for getting fired.  Let’s talk about that important distinction in more detail.

Florida is an “At Will” State

Like virtually all the states in the United States, Florida is an “at will” employment state.  That means that you are employed at the will of the employer, and the employer can take away your employment at any time, for any legal reason.

Thus, the term “employment at will” means that you are employed at the will of the employer, unless there is some contractual arrangement that limits the employer’s ability to terminate your employment.

Oftentimes, courts have deemed employee handbooks to be contracts between employers and employees.  If there is a progressive discipline process, or some other process, created by the employer that is meant to come before termination, sometimes courts will force employers to follow that process before firing someone.  But, generally speaking, employers hold all the cards with regard to hiring and firing decisions.

When applying the “at will” doctrine to worker injury situations, the fact that a person is injured on the job has no bearing on an employee’s “at will” status.  If you are injured, can no longer work for some period of time, and the employer needs someone to perform your job duties, then the employer is free to terminate you and hire someone else to do your job.

That result may seem harsh – because it is.  However, looking from another perspective, it is true that you, as an injured worker, are protected by and will receive compensation from your employer’s workers’ compensation plan.

To conclude, if you are injured on the job and you file for workers’ compensation florida law does not stop your employer from terminating your employment.  Yet, there is something your employer cannot do.  Your employer cannot terminate your employment as retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim.

Florida Does Not Allow Employers to Retaliate Against You For Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim

Under Florida law, an employer terminating an injured worker and hiring someone else who can perform the injured worker’s job is permitted.  Indeed, if an employer needs certain tasks performed consistently, the employer is justified in getting someone else because the employer will not be able to wait until an injured worker is healthy again.

Yet, Florida law does not permit an employer to fire someone simply for claiming workers’ compensation benefits.  That is retaliation.

Specifically, under Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Retaliation Statute, contained in § 440.205 of the Florida Statutes:

No employer shall discharge, threaten to discharge, intimidate, or coerce any employee by reason of such employee’s valid claim for compensation or attempt to claim compensation under the Workers’ Compensation Law.

This law protects you from losing your job just because you filed a legitimate workers’ compensation claim.  If an employer in Florida violates the Workers’ Compensation Retaliation Statute, then you can file a lawsuit claiming unlawful retaliation.  Once the retaliation is successfully proven, you can recover different types of damages, including lost wages.

In order to demonstrate workers’ compensation retaliation, you must prove three elements:

  1. You engaged in statutorily protected activity.  Simply put, filing for workers’ compensation when you are injured is “statutorily protected activity.”
  2. You suffered an adverse employment action.  An adverse employment action could be termination of employment.  But, as the statute above indicates, adverse employment action also includes threats, intimidation, and coercion.
  3. There is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action.  Here, you have to prove that you were fired (or suffered other adverse action) because you filed for workers’ compensation.

So How Can You Prove Causation?  The Burden-Shifting Process

As you can see, the main issue when it comes to being fired after filing for workers’ compensation is the employer’s motive.  If the employer had a legitimate need to terminate the injured worker, then it has not violated the law.  If, however, the employer fired the employee in retaliation for a workers’ compensation claim, then it has violated the law.

The way the courts work out the employer’s true motive is by engaging in a “burden-shifting” process.  To be more specific, after an employee files an unlawful retaliation lawsuit, the burden shifting goes as follows:

  • First, the employee must allege that his termination is in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim.
  • Second, the employer must explain that the employee was fired for another, non-retaliatory reason.  Such reasons include that other similarly situated employees who did not file workers’ compensation claims were also terminated, or the employee was written up for other performance deficiencies.
  • Third, the employee then gets the opportunity to rebut the employer’s non-retaliatory reasons, in order to show that retaliation was the true motive and the other reasons the employer gave were mere pretext.

If you have filed a workers’ compensation claim for a work-related injury and believe that your employer retaliated against you for it, then you should think about talking to an experienced Florida workers’ compensation law attorney.  Take advantage of a free case review today by calling Doolittle & Tucker at 904.396.1734.  We are here to help you get the compensation you deserve.