It’s not only illegal to retaliate against an employee that has asked for or who has received workers’ compensation leave – it’s really, really illegal. This means that it’s absolutely forbidden to harm any employee in any way if they have chosen to pursue their rights under the workers’ compensation system in each and every state – and that includes laying them off, harassing them, demoting them, firing them, or anything else you can think of under the sun.
However, just because you are currently on leave under your state’s workers’ comp statutes doesn’t necessarily mean that your job is completely safe and sound. Here’s when you can – and can’t – be laid off while you’re on Workers’ Compensation leave.
Circumstances Beyond your Employer’s Control
In some cases, it might not be the will of your employer that you lose your job, get demoted, or suffer from any other negative employment status. In fact it might be due to circumstances beyond the control of your job entirely.
A good example of this is if your employer suddenly goes out of business while you are on leave. This is obviously only in rather extreme situations or circumstances that arise only after long periods of time where there have been problems with the company; depending on your position within the organization, you may or may not have been aware of anything like that brewing on the horizon before your workplace injury necessitated your leave of absence. At this point, if a company shutters, there’s not much you can do except apply for unemployment and hope your boss paid up on the company’s workers’ compensation insurance policy through the end of the year.
When it’s Not You Alone
While “at will” employment states like Nevada mean that you can be fired at any time without cause, you can’t by law be fired or laid off exclusively because you file for workers’ comp. There needs to be a reason that extends beyond that: one of the most common reasons is when your employer chooses to instate a series of layoffs through a cost-cutting effort often euphemistically referred to as “downsizing” (or sometimes the even more offensive “right-sizing”).
Of course, an important distinction needs to be made here: you need to have been given the pink slip for some other reason than being on workers’ comp leave. If your performance on the job had been poor prior to your injury, if you don’t have seniority in your department when the axe needs to fall, or if there’s any other reason to let you go that doesn’t relate directly or indirectly to your workers’ compensation case, then odds are your employer can indeed decide to fire you without risking any repercussions.
Of course, many employers may use such reasons as a fig leaf to conceal the real reason they want you gone: retaliation for bringing a workers’ comp claim in the first place. If you have suspicions that this is indeed the case, contact your state’s workers’ comp board so they can investigate the issue.