Can my Employer Terminate Me While I my Workers’ Compensation Case is Pending?
Neither Georgia nor federal law prohibits your employer from terminating your employment while you are injured and receiving workers’ compensation benefits. Georgia is an “at will” employment State, meaning that your employer can fire you for any reason whatsoever (other than illegal discrimination based on race, sex, religion, etc.).
In a workers’ compensation situation, your employer could fire you for not showing up and you would have no recourse, even if your absence was due to a compensable workers’ comp. injury.
Terminating your employment does not cancel your employer’s obligations under the workers’ compensation law. Your employer and its insurance company are still required to pay you temporary total disability wage benefits, provide workers’ comp. medical care and pay for any other workers’ compensation related costs.
Job Termination may Help Your Case
Ironically, your workers’ compensation case may benefit if you get fired. One of the strategies used by insurance companies to cut off benefits involves having the employer create a “light duty” job that fits the activity limitations set forth by your doctor. Often these jobs are “make work” type of jobs that can be phased out after a few weeks or months. Their sole purpose is to put you on a path towards a full duty return to work and a termination of benefits based on return to work.
If you have been fired, the insurance company cannot place you in one of these artificial jobs, thus, one of their strategies to end your weekly wage benefits will not be available.
Few Seriously Injured Workers Return to their Jobs Anyway
Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws have created an environment where employers and employees become very adversarial in a workers’ compensation claim. In almost every case that results in a lump sum settlement, your employer will insist on your resignation. Insurance companies tend to believe that once an employee is injured, that employee is likely to re-injure himself.
I advise my clients that they should not expect that they will be returning to their jobs. Frankly, it is too bad that the Georgia’s workers’ compensation system fosters such a non-productive result, but this is just how the system works - and I would point out that the system works in a similar fashion in most other States as well. Unless and until the State legislatures change the structure and legislative philosophy of workers’ compensation laws, my only choice is to fight to maximize medical, wage and settlement values for my clients.
My point: if your workplace injury is even moderately serious, you are going to lose your job - if this is going to happen, doesn’t it make sense to close out your workers’ comp. case with as big of a lump sum check as you can?
Want more information? - call me at 770-351-0801 or email me.