Wrongful Termination/Discrimination and the Industrial Insurance Act
If you are injured on the job, you may be protected against either wrongful termination or discriminatory practices by your employer. Washington State is an “at will” state, which means in simple terms that an employer can terminate you for any reason, and you can quit for any reason. However, there are still legal protections for workers who are injured on the job.
Sometimes, when a worker is injured on the job and files a claim for that injury through the worker’s compensation system, problems arise with the employer. Depending on the action taken by the employer, you may have a separate legal claim and, as always, if you suspect you may have a claim, you should consult an attorney with experience in employment law. But it is helpful to know some basic legal rights.
You should know that an employer cannot terminate you, or discriminate against you, for: (a) filing a claim for an on-the-job injury; (b) saying you will file such a claim, or (c) seeking the worker’s compensation benefits to which you are entitled. These protections apply whether your employer is self-insured, or not.
Actions which constitute prohibited employer action also may include: (a) firing you or laying you off; (b) demoting you or assigning you to an undesirable shift; (c) refusing to adjust your job duties to meet restrictions ordered by your doctor if such a job can be accommodated by your employer; (d) denying you a promotion; and (e) reducing your wages and/or benefits in retaliation for your injury or for having filed the claim. On the other hand, if you failed to follow safety or health rules, failed to follow relevant employer policies, or other conditions, your potential claim may be in jeopardy.
As with everything, there are many caveats and exceptions and a knowledgeable employment law attorney will be able to help you understand whether you have a valid claim. However, if any of these situations have happened to you, you should be aware that the law may provide you relief from prohibited employer retaliation.