If you have an accident at work in Florida, you may be afraid to file a workers’ comp claim for fear of being fired. If so, you are not alone. But have no fear. Florida Workers’ Compensation law protects injured employees against this type of retaliation by employers.
No matter what type of work you do, accidents and occupational injuries can and do happen. According to the Florida Department of Financial Services, there were a total of 70,678 workers’ compensation claims filed in Florida in 2020. This number does not include those cases that were not reported to the state. Many job-related accidents and injuries go unreported. Often times, injured workers are afraid to file a claim for fear that their employer will threaten or harass them.
So, why are people afraid that their employers will punish them for filing a claim? The simple answer is that employers do sometimes fire workers after they file or attempt to file a work injury claim. However, what many workers don’t know is that these actions on the part of employers are illegal.
Many employers play off of these fears. But employees can fight back against these bully employers.
That weapon is Florida Statute 440.205. This statute makes it unlawful for employers to do any of the following if an employee files or attempts to file a valid workers’ compensation claim:
- threaten to discharge
- coerce; or
To bring a claim under this retaliatory discharge statute, an injured employee must show three things. The first is that the worker engaged in a statutorily protected activity. This is fairly easy to prove. The protected activity would be the filing or attempted filing of the injury claim.
The second thing the worker has to prove is that she suffered an adverse employment action. In the case of an employer who fires his employee, this would be pretty straightforward.
Lastly, the worker must prove that the adverse action was in some way related to the protected activity. This last element is usually the most difficult to prove. Many times, employers will try to get around this law. They will claim that the reason they took action against you has nothing to do with your claim. For example, an employer may accuse you of habitual lateness. Or your employer may claim that you violated company policies or procedures.
Remember, however, that the worker only has to show that the firing or other action was related in some way to the filing or attempted filing of the workers’ comp claim.
An employee shows a causal connection between her protected activity and the adverse employment action when she proves that: (1) the employer became aware of the protected conduct; and (2) the firing or other adverse activity happened shortly after that awareness. In other words, the shorter the time period between the adverse activity and the filing of the claim, the stronger the claim for retaliation.
Once an injured worker can prove all three of these elements, it is the employer’s turn to give a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the discharge.
If the employer is able to show a legitimate and lawful reason for the discharge, then the burden goes back to the employee. At this point, the employee must show that the employer’s reason is just a pretext. The employee can do this by providing evidence that the reason has no basis in fact, that it was not the true factor motivating the decision to terminate, or that the employer’s reason was not enough to motivate the decision.
As you can see, employers can put up a fight in retaliatory discharge cases. For this reason, it is important for workers to document what happens on the job. Make sure that you keep written records, such as emails or texts whenever there is a problem at your workplace. You may never need these proofs. But, if you ever do, they could mean the difference between winning or losing your case.
If you or a loved one has suffered an accident or injury at work, you must contact an attorney who can advise you about your possible workers’ compensation claim. If you are thinking of filing a claim for a work-related injury, but are scared to file because you are afraid your employer will fire you, it is important to speak with a lawyer who specializes in on-the-job injuries to understand your rights under the law. Finally, if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where you filed a claim and were later fired from your job, an experienced Florida Workers’ Compensation lawyer can advise you as to the possibility of filing a claim or lawsuit against your employer for retaliatory discharge.