Too many employers think that asking an employee to quit their job is somehow different from firing them. The truth is, from a legal standpoint, it’s exactly the same thing. Simply because it makes the employer feel better about themselves that doesn’t mean that it’s any different.
If you get hurt on the job, you are entitled to collect worker’s compensation benefits, and if your employer forces you to resign as a result, you have legal options including filing a wrongful termination lawsuit. Learn about workers’ compensation laws, what happens if you’re forced to quit after a work injury, and how a workers’ comp attorney can help.
Workers’ Compensation and Work Injury Laws
Many employers think it doesn’t count as firing you if they ask you to resign to avoid a workers’ compensation claim. These kinds of unscrupulous employers should be held accountable for their actions. Just because they don’t want to accommodate your disability, doesn’t relieve them of their legal responsibility to do so.
Employers cannot fire you for filing a worker’s compensation claim. It’s that simple. Just because you were hurt at work is not just cause to let you go. The reason worker’s compensation exists is to allow for no-fault coverage of employee medical expenses in the case of work-related injuries. If firing someone for their injury was legal, the point of the system fails.
What Does the Law Say?
Oklahoma is an “at-will” employment state, which means that both employers and employees can cease employment relationships at any time for (almost) any reason. However, workers have certain levels of protection against being fired or laid off unfairly. Those protections include reasons covered by both federal and state laws. When it comes to work injuries, Oklahoma employers are strictly forbidden from firing employees in retaliation if said employees exercise their rights under Oklahoma’s Workers’ Compensation Law, including filing for benefits.
In addition, Oklahoma says that workers who are fired or coerced into quitting after getting hurt on the job, hiring a lawyer, or filing workers’ compensation claims are entitled to take legal action against their employers. If you need to go this route, it will exist as an entirely separate lawsuit from your claim filing for workers’ compensation benefits. However, in both cases, it’s important to have an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer on your side from day one to protect your interests and to maximize your recovery.
Firing and Forced Resignation Are the Same
So we know firing someone for being hurt is illegal, but what if they ask you to resign? Is it legal if you agree to do so (even if the decision wasn’t a real choice)? Again, it’s pretty basic: forced resignation is exactly the same as firing under the law. Likewise, your employer can’t target you to make your life at work miserable so that you choose to quit. When the employer uses these tactics, they’re trying to avoid not only your workers’ comp claim, but an unemployment claim.
If you quit voluntarily, you are ineligible for any benefits, including unemployment. However, if you are forced to resign, this does not qualify as voluntarily terminating your employment. Legally, this is called constructive discharge and is the same thing as termination. It means that you can not only still file for workers’ comp, but unemployment. You may also have cause for legal action against your former employer.
Workers’ Compensation Claims in Oklahoma Are Considered “No-Fault”
As mentioned above, it’s important to note that all workers’ compensation claims in Oklahoma are considered “no-fault.” That means you can file for benefits even if your injury or illness is your fault and not another worker’s or your employer’s, provided it happened during the course of your daily job duties.
Some employers may attempt to dissuade injured workers from filing claims if they were fully or partially responsible for their own accidents or injuries, but state law protects workers from being denied. The only exception is if they were impaired or intoxicated at the time of their workplace injuries.
Can I Be Laid Off While Collecting Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
Many injured workers’ anxieties and fears aren’t put to rest when their applications or appeals are approved and they begin collecting benefits. They often worry about their continued employment status while they’re unable to work and are drawing income from their employers’ workers’ compensation insurance policies. That worry can be amplified if they receive benefits for a long period, as payments may continue for temporary total disability (TTD) for up to 156 weeks, with an additional 52 weeks added in cases where an additional injury occurs.
As with filing a claim or reporting an injury in the first place, employers aren’t allowed to fire or coerce workers into quitting or resigning simply for collecting workers’ compensation benefits. In many cases, injured employees who are receiving TTD benefits can return to work in a lighter or modified role per their doctors’ orders, and their employers are required to make reasonable efforts to accommodate them.
In that instance, employers are forbidden from firing or forcing employees to resign simply because of reduced productivity. However, employers can fire employees who are receiving workers’ compensation benefits if they return to work in an altered role and demonstrate lackluster performance or violate company policy and rules. They also may fire employees if they are unable to accommodate their injury-related work restrictions. It’s important to speak to an experience workers’ compensation attorney to learn if your firing was illegal.
Do Checks Stop if I Get Fired While Collecting Workers’ Compensation?
No! If your workers’ compensation claim has been approved, you will continue to receive benefits for as long as you are disabled and your ability to work is eliminated or reduced, even if you get fired.
Hiring an Attorney
If you suffer a work injury and are forced to resign or fired as a result, you could potentially have cause to sue your employer for unlawful termination. It’s important, however, to have the right legal representation to ensure that you get the compensation you deserve, and that your former employer is held properly responsible.
If you’re terminated unlawfully, you may be able to receive your worker’s compensation, unemployment, and a range of other damages resulting from your termination, including emotional damage, pain and suffering, and others.
For more information or to find out if you might have an unlawful termination lawsuit, the workers’ compensation attorneys at Parrish DeVaughn have years of experience handling cases just like yours. Get in touch with us today for a free, no-obligation evaluation of your case and a consultation on where to go next.