Is your workers’ comp claim invalid if you’ve been wrongfully terminated in GA?
Some states provide workers with substantial legal protection against wrongful termination. Unfortunately, employment in Georgia is “at will,” meaning that employers can terminate their employees for almost any reason without legal repercussions.
However, under the Georgia Fair Employment Practices Act, there are few restrictions on firing and hiring. One such protection is that employers can’t legally fire an employee for retaliatory reasons.
Does Georgia have laws against wrongful termination and retaliation?
Occasionally, an employer will fire a worker solely because they filed a workers’ compensation claim for a work-related injury. Georgia law classifies firing a worker in response to their claim as “wrongful termination for the purpose of retaliation.” Workers in Georgia can file a claim against their employers if they believe their employer fired them out of retaliation.
A Georgia workers’ rights lawyer can guide you through the complicated legal landscape surrounding wrongful termination and workers’ compensation and help you determine if you’re eligible to file a claim. Although Georgia law offers workers protection from wrongful termination, proving the employer’s retaliatory intent can be a challenge.
How do I prove wrongful termination in GA?
If your employer fired you after you filed for workers’ comp benefits, you may suspect the firing was in retaliation. However, proving an employer’s intent requires evidence, which can often be collected and presented in court with the help of an attorney.
What types of evidence do you need to prove your employer fired you out of retaliation?
Evidence in a case of retaliatory or wrongful termination can vary, but these common types are particularly useful:
- Timing is often critical in wrongful termination cases. If your employer fired you within days or weeks of you initiating your workers’ compensation claim, this may be used as evidence that your employer fired you in retaliation.
- Written documentation such as emails, text messages or internal memos that suggest a retaliatory motive can also be invaluable.
- Witness testimonies from colleagues who can vouch for your good performance or attest to discriminatory or retaliatory comments made by supervisors may also strengthen your case.
Similarly, if you noticed your managers began behaving differently or strangely toward you within days or weeks of you filing your claim, chances are your employer fired you with retaliatory intent.
Your employer likely gave you a different reason for firing you. If the reason seemed unclear, chances are you were likely wrongfully terminated. Signs that point to unclear reasoning include refusal to discuss the reason for the termination with you or explanations that change each time your employer writes a report or otherwise communicates regarding firing you.
If you recognize any of these signs or if you suspect your firing was wrongful for other reasons, contact a work injury lawyer to discuss your case.
In the news:
Family of wrongfully terminated worker awarded $750,000
Kenneth Stewart, a former Atlanta driver for Hanna Truck Line, sued the company for workers’ compensation and wrongful termination after a workplace injury led to his firing in 2012. In 2022, a judge finally awarded Stewart’s family $750,000, a notably high judgment for such a case.
During the trial, Stewart’s attorney was able to provide evidence that showed the company had treated Stewart more harshly than other employees who had similar workplace injuries but accepted lower settlements. Unfortunately, the judgment came too late for Stewart, who passed away from a heart attack in 2019 after a lengthy and stressful legal battle that drove the family into bankruptcy.
How to establish a claim for retaliatory firing
A worker who believes their employer fired them in retaliation for filing a workers’ comp claim must generally meet 4 requirements:
- The worker must have been eligible for workers’ comp at the time of termination.
- The worker must have filed a workers’ comp claim or otherwise begun the filing process.
- The employer must have terminated, threatened to terminate or otherwise acted against the injured worker.
- The employer must have terminated the worker in response to the worker filing a workers’ comp claim.
Meeting these requirements can be a difficult task, but a Georgia workers’ compensation attorney can work with you to gather evidence and present your case before a judge.
Wrongful termination while on light duty
In some cases, an injured worker’s doctor may grant them clearance to return to work on light duty. Also referred to as “modified” duty, light duty is a temporary work adjustment the employer makes to accommodate a worker’s needs while recovering from a work-related illness or injury.
A light work modification allows the worker to continue working within their limits. The revised job duties may be a limited version of the injured worker’s original job, or the worker may receive an entirely different job while they heal from the injury. Depending on the situation, light work may lessen or completely eliminate an injured employee’s workers’ compensation benefits.
You may be wondering:
Can I be laid off while on light duty?
The short answer is yes. However, if your employer fires you while you’re on modified duty, you may have legal recourse.
Getting fired while on workers’ compensation
If you believe your employer is behaving differently toward you because you initiated a claim for workers’ compensation, there are some steps you can take to decrease the likelihood of them firing you:
- Don’t give your employer other reasons to fire you (e.g., being disrespectful or disregarding company rules or policies).
- Report to work on time and perform your job duties to the best of your ability.
- Don’t become involved in unnecessary conflict in the workplace.
Because Georgia is an “at-will” employment state, even the slightest complaint on your report can create the appearance that your employer fired you for a legally permissible reason—even if the firing was actually in response to your workers’ compensation claim.
Can I lose my job due to an injury in Georgia?
Despite being an “at-will” state, which means employers have the right to terminate employees for almost any reason, Georgia law does offer some protection for workers who have been injured on the job and have filed for workers’ compensation. Specifically, it’s illegal for an employer to fire an employee solely in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim.
That said, proving that you were fired solely because of your workers’ comp claim can be challenging. Employers often give other reasons for the termination that may appear legitimate, such as performance issues or company downsizing.
Therefore, while you have some legal protections that theoretically prevent you from losing your job due to a work-related injury and subsequent workers’ comp claim, the reality can be more complex and may require legal assistance to fully protect your rights.
Can I be fired while on workers’ comp in Georgia?
While an employer cannot legally fire you for being on workers’ comp or filing a claim for benefits, there are still instances in which an employer could legally terminate your employment. Some of these reasons might include:
- Poor job performance. If there are documented issues related to the quality of your work that existed prior to your injury, your employer could cite this as a reason for termination.
- Company downsizing. If the company is going through financial hardship and needs to lay off employees, being on workers’ comp does not necessarily protect you from being included in the layoff.
- Violation of company policy. Engaging in misconduct such as stealing, harassment, or violating other company policies can be grounds for legal termination, even if you’re on workers’ comp.
- Abandonment of position. If you fail to communicate adequately with your employer about your situation and just stop coming to work, the employer might consider this job abandonment.
- Other misconduct. Acts like fraud, insubordination, or criminal activities outside of work could also be legal grounds for termination.
Additionally, once you reach “maximum medical improvement,” meaning your injury or condition is not expected to improve further, if you still have limitations that prevent you from performing your original job, even with reasonable accommodations, the company may be legally allowed to let you go. While some employers may offer you a different, less physically demanding job, they’re not obligated to do so.
Remember that while you have some protections against being fired solely for filing a workers’ comp claim, these protections are not absolute. An experienced work injury attorney can help you understand your legal options if you find yourself facing termination after filing for or receiving workers’ comp benefits.
Can I sue for wrongful termination in Georgia?
Yes, you can sue for wrongful termination in Georgia, but there are specific, limited conditions under which you can do so. Because Georgia is an “at-will” employment state, employers are allowed to terminate employees for almost any reason.
However, there are exceptions. For example, you can sue if you were fired in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim, as Georgia law explicitly prohibits this kind of retaliatory firing. You can also sue if you were fired for discriminatory reasons such as race, gender or religion under federal or state anti-discrimination laws.
The key to a successful wrongful termination lawsuit is evidence. You will need to gather substantial proof to demonstrate that your firing was for an illegal reason. Consulting an attorney with experience in employment law can help you understand what kind of evidence is needed for your specific situation.
What should I do if my employer refuses to discuss the reason for my termination?
If your employer refuses to discuss the reason for your termination, it could potentially be a red flag, especially if you suspect wrongful termination or retaliation after filing a workers’ comp claim.
The first step is to document all interactions, or lack thereof. Make a note of every attempt you’ve made to discuss the issue with your employer and their responses (or lack of responses). This documentation may be helpful if you decide to pursue legal action later on.
Next, you should consider consulting a wrongful termination attorney who can provide you with valuable insights on how to proceed. An attorney can help you collect evidence, engage with your former employer in a legally sound manner, and, if necessary, file a lawsuit. They may also be able to help you file a complaint with relevant state or federal agencies, depending on the nature of your termination and the applicable laws.
Did you experience unlawful termination in Atlanta after filing a workers’ comp claim? Contact our work injury attorney.
Recovering from a workplace injury requires energy, focus and patience, so we understand that the last thing you want to worry about is losing your job.
To be clear, firing or threatening to fire an injured worker to discourage them from filing a workers’ comp claim is illegal in Georgia. So, if you find yourself in this situation, we can help you fight back.