Retaliation for filing for workers’ comp? Know your rights

Anyone who is injured on the job should be able to receive compensation for medical expenses and lost time. The laws regarding workers' compensation are basically the same in Pennsylvania as they are throughout the country, but different state laws exist that dictate the deadline to file, the amount of compensation and other factors. Someone who is injured on the job but doesn't report the injury can be fired if his or her work performance suffers - however, if the worker is filed for reporting an injury or for testifying to support a co-worker's claim, he or she might have a case to sue for workers' comp retaliation.

In 1998, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania's decided the case of Shick v. Shirey, 716 A.2d 1231 (Pa. 1998), in which the Court held that a workers' compensation claimant may have a cause of action against his or her employer if the employer fires the injured worker because he or she pursues a workers' comp claim. The timing of the firing and the pursuit of the worker's comp claim is important, as well as establishing a causal link between the injured worker's claim and the termination.

What defines retaliation?

Although Pennsylvania is an at-will employment state, where most workers can be fired for a good, bad, or no reason at all, as long as the reason is not illegal, firing an employee without cause could be considering retaliating for reporting an injury or filing for workers' compensation. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides this list of other ways companies have been known to get back at workers:

  • Refusing to hire or denying promotion
  • Making threats
  • Giving unjustified negative remarks on an evaluation
  • Providing unjustified negative job references
  • Increasing surveillance on the employee

Federal law prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for reporting injuries and filing for workers' comp, according to the Wall Street Journal. In addition, the government warns companies against offering bonuses or prizes for safety goals if workers feel they'll be disciplined for reporting injuries.

Contacting an attorney

The number of injuries reported to the federal government by employees has dropped by 31 percent over the last ten years. While companies say it's the result of increased safety education, many workers and attorneys believe this is mainly because employees fear retaliation if they speak up.

Workplace injuries can cause victims to rack up thousands of dollars in medical debt, as well as take vital wages away from families who need them. People who are already suffering from a workplace injury don't need the added stress of employer retaliation. If you feel you're being disciplined for filing for PA workers' compensation or reporting an injury, or if you have been injured and you are concerned that your employer might retaliate against you if you file a claim, you should contact an attorney with experience in Pennsylvania workers' comp laws.