Every day across the state of Pennsylvania, workers get injured or sickened while performing their jobs. Issues ranging from car accidents in a company vehicle to serious illnesses resulting from exposure to the elements or dangerous compounds can leave a worker unable to perform his or her job. In order to receive the workers’ compensation benefits intended to protect those who work in this state, those who suffer an injury or illness related to work need to report it to their employer.
Sometimes, however, an employer decides to retaliate against a worker who has simply followed the proper procedure to obtain benefits. Understanding your rights can help you determine what your next step should be if you lose your job as the result of a workplace injury.
Pennsylvania is an at-will employment state
Unlike some states, Pennsylvania allows employers to terminate workers with or without cause or notice. Similarly, employees can leave an employer at any time that they choose. At-will employment can make it confusing for workers to understand their rights.
While your employer can terminate your position for any reason, from job performance to downsizing, they have to provide a legitimate reason, whether or not it has to do with your work. In situations where a worker violates an employer workplace policy and gets hurt, this could be grounds for dismissal. It’s important to realize, however, that your employer cannot fire you just for filing an accident report or a workers’ compensation claim.
The law in Pennsylvania is clear. Your employer cannot fire you for filing for workers’ compensation or unemployment during a layoff, giving truthful testimony, fulfilling legal obligations, serving jury duty or refusing to do something that would violate local, state or federal laws.
Employers should accommodate injured workers
If you can return to work after your injury with reasonable accommodations, such as limits to lifting or the amount of time performing repetitive tasks, the law mandates that your employer make such reasonable accommodations to help you remain at work. Refusal to accommodate injuries can sometimes lead to termination from a position, which is a violation of your rights as a worker under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act.
If you believe your employer chose to fire you in retaliation for reporting an injury, filing for workers’ compensation or requesting reasonable accommodations to return to work, you need to stand up for your rights. You may have several options, including a lawsuit against your employer or filing a report with state agencies related to the retaliatory termination. Doing so not only potentially offsets the damages caused by inappropriate employer actions, it reduces the potential of your employer doing to the same thing to someone else in the future.