Florida’s workers’ compensation laws are a lifeline for injured workers. When you suffer an injury while on the job, workers’ compensation benefits ensure your medical bills are paid. If you are going to work for a while, these benefits also pay some portion of wages to blunt any financial burden of your injury.
Workers’ compensation laws are beneficial to employers as well. These laws prevent employees from filing suit against their employer for most workplace accidents, thereby insulating employers from costly and time-consuming litigation.
Florida requires most employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance to pay the claims of employees who become injured or sick while working. As is true with any insurance, the premiums for this required coverage can increase as the number of workers’ compensation claims increases.
Whether your employer is upset with paying higher premiums or unhappy for some other reason, they may attempt to retaliate against you for applying for or receiving workers’ compensation benefits. This retaliation is illegal and can subject your employer to liability for damages and penalties.
Proving unlawful retaliation is often complicated, but hiring an experienced and knowledgeable Florida employment law attorney can help prove your case. It is critical, though, to know when you are facing unlawful retaliation and what to do once you believe it is happening.
What Are Signs of Workplace Retaliation?
Workers’ compensation retaliation and general workplace retaliation share many characteristics. Both types of retaliation involve experiencing negative consequences or repercussions in the workplace, especially after filing a workers’ compensation claim. These negative actions may be either formal or informal.
Unlawful workplace retaliation will often occur with little or no rational explanation. It may appear that your employer was satisfied with your job performance one day and then inexplicably dissatisfied the next. When you approach your employer about the situation, they may deny any issue.
Not only this, but a hostile attitude from your employer will often accompany unlawful workers’ compensation retaliation and other illegal retaliation. Your employer may be unavailable to discuss your concerns or may blame you for workplace problems.
While there may be a rational explanation for these behaviors, if they appear to be unsupported by any such explanation, retaliation may be the cause.
An obvious sign of potential retaliation is a sudden and unexpected termination from your workplace. If you show up for work and are told that your employment is over, retaliation may be the case if there is no other apparent reason for the termination. A sudden termination is even more suspicious if preceded by an exemplary work record.
Retaliation is not always as drastic as termination, though. Any adverse treatment at work by your management or supervisors could be a form of retaliation if there is no lawful reason for the treatment.
Demotions, less-desirable assignments and schedules, denial of promotions, and exclusion from company events are examples of potential retaliatory activities.
Workplace Retaliation Examples
Suppose you have suffered a workplace injury and collected workers’ compensation benefits for a few weeks. Once you heal and your doctor clears you to resume your duties, you schedule your return date with your employer.
However, when you show up for work, your employer informs you that you are being terminated. The lack of a valid reason for this sudden termination suggests that this might be retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim.
Other examples include:
- Termination of your position or demotion without cause
- Performance evaluations that suddenly turn negative
- Denials of promotions and pay increases
Suppose your employer does not terminate you but informs you upon your return that you are being reassigned to a different position.
Your employer may legitimately do this if you have work restrictions that prevent you from doing your previous tasks. But if there is no reason and the new position pays less than your previous one, this demotion could be fueled by retaliatory intent.
Even receiving poor treatment can be an example of unlawful retaliation. If you are excluded from work-related activities or have unflattering nicknames made up about you, you may be the victim of workplace retaliation.
Can You Be Terminated While on Workers’ Comp in Florida?
It is illegal for your employer to terminate your employment in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim. Similarly, your employer may not end your career because you receive workers’ compensation. However, you can still be fired while receiving workers’ compensation benefits.
Florida is an at-will employment state. At-will means that your employer may terminate you as an employee at any time and without prior notice. There are only a few limitations on why an employer may remove you, such as the prohibition against firing you for filing a workers’ comp claim or for receiving benefits.
There are legitimate reasons why your employer may terminate your employment, even after you have applied for workers’ comp and begun receiving benefits. For example, if you violated company policy in any way, either before, during, or after your workplace accident, your employer may discipline you for such violation.
Your employer may also terminate your employment even while receiving workers’ compensation payments if your employer initially hired you to perform a specific job and you cannot return to this job due to your injuries and limitations. This limitation would cause your employer to terminate the employment relationship.
Knowing whether you were terminated for a lawful reason or your employer fired you because you sought workers’ compensation benefits can be challenging. Savvy employers would never admit outright that they fired you because of your workers’ comp claim, so proving that you were unlawfully terminated is difficult.
A detail-oriented employment law attorney can request documents and records as well as depose witnesses who can shed light on the actual reason for your termination.
What to Do if You’re Retaliated Against for Workers’ Compensation
If you suspect that you are the victim of retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim, you must take action sooner rather than later. Florida and federal laws give you several options to seek redress in workers’ compensation retaliation cases, but these options decrease in number the longer you wait.
First, you should approach your company’s human resources (HR) department and formally report the treatment you are experiencing. Even if you do not believe your HR department will do anything, filing a complaint and documenting the problematic behavior is still important.
The complaint should detail the treatment you have endured, specify when such conduct occurred, and identify the individuals involved in the behavior. The more details you can provide, the stronger case for unlawful retaliation you may have against your employer if they ignore your complaint.
Sometimes, the HR department can address the situation with your employer. But do not be discouraged if HR takes no action on your formal complaint. Inaction can speak volumes to a judge or jury about your employer’s motivation.
Next, consider filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC workers’ compensation retaliation solutions can include attempting to negotiate workers’ comp retaliation settlements between you, your employer, and those directly responsible for the retaliatory actions against you.
Last, you may file a lawsuit against your employer in court and ask for monetary damages. These damages could help compensate you for payment you did not receive, including increased pay you would have or should have earned. Punitive damages might be an option if your employer’s conduct in retaliating against you is especially egregious.
The Florida workers’ compensation retaliation statute of limitations is four years from the date of the retaliatory action. Your case needs to be filed before this statute of limitations expires. Because of this, and the investigation necessary to bring a lawsuit is intensive, you should speak with your Florida employment law attorney as soon as possible.
Your attorney can advise whether it makes sense to file a lawsuit and what compensation you might receive if your case succeeds.
How Do You Win a Retaliation Claim?
Filing a workers’ compensation retaliation claim against your employer is one thing, but it is much more challenging to succeed in your case in court. The law places the burden on you, the plaintiff, to produce evidence and witnesses that show it is more likely true than not that you suffered unlawful retaliation.
Documents and records will form a significant part of your case’s evidence. Internal memos, text messages, phone records, and other communications might show your employer or management discussing your workers’ compensation claim and their feelings about it.
Such evidence can lead to a strong inference that whatever disciplinary action or negative outcome you experienced was due to a retaliatory motive.
Your employment record will also be critical evidence for your case. With this information in hand, the judge or jury hearing your case can see whether you had any disciplinary problems before your workplace injury and what issues were noted after you filed for workers’ compensation.
A complete absence of disciplinary problems before or after you filed your workers’ comp claim can help prove your unlawful retaliation claim. A lack of noted disciplinary issues can make it difficult for your employer to justify your termination or take disciplinary action against you.
Finally, your case may benefit from the testimony of coworkers, supervisors, and upper management. This testimony can either corroborate your claims of unlawful retaliation or expose contradictory or nonsensical explanations offered by your employer for the actions taken against you.
All of this evidence and information may seem overwhelming to gather and present. For most individuals acting on their own, this is true — finding these witnesses and evidence and using them effectively in court is daunting, if not impossible. This evidence is another way a qualified employment law attorney can help you.
Attorneys to Protect Your Rights After Workers’ Compensation Retaliation in Florida
In cases of workers’ compensation retaliation, Florida law gives employees rights that protect them against unlawful retaliation. Exercising these rights and holding employers accountable through EEOC complaints and civil lawsuits is made significantly more manageable with the help of a knowledgeable Florida workers’ compensation lawyer.
Your lawyer can investigate your case, advise you on the best course of action to assert your rights, and dramatically increase the likelihood of achieving a successful outcome.
Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A. has represented aggrieved workers who have faced unlawful workers’ comp retaliation since the 1990s. Our firm is well-equipped with the resources and knowledge to handle your claim professionally, and we are committed to helping you obtain justice against illegal employment practices.
Contact us today and enlist our assistance in your workers’ compensation retaliation case.
Please Note: At the time this article was written, the information contained within it was current based on the prevailing law at the time. Laws and precedents are subject to change, so this information may not be up to date. Always speak with a law firm regarding any legal situation to get the most current information available.