In Georgia, companies cannot legally terminate an injured worker as retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim.
However, there is no law preventing an employer from terminating an injured worker who is receiving workers’ compensation – so long as that worker isn’t being punished for filing the claim. Unfortunately, it’s not unheard of for employers to invent reasons for firing unrelated to injury. Because Georgia recognizes employment at-will, this means without a written employment contract, a company can fire a worker at any time for most any reason.
This puts injured Georgia workers in a tough spot, and may actually discourage some from reporting their work-related injury in the first place.
It’s for this reason our Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyers encourage workers to seek consultation with an experienced legal team as soon as possible. We can not only help you in filing a claim for benefits, we can help ensure your rights are protected and any retaliatory actions are well-documented, should further legal action be necessary.
It’s worth noting if a company fires you while you are receiving benefits, you can’t work and you can’t find other employment, the company may be required to pay you for a longer period of time.
Claims of workers’ compensation and retaliation may be two separate issues handled differently by courts. They are sometimes closely intertwined, though they may ultimately have different results.
One such case was seen recently in Nealy v. City of Santa Monica before the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Eight.
According to court records, claimant started working for municipal employer in 1996 and after transferring once, remained in one position as a solid waste equipment operator for six years until he was injured. His injury occurred when his foot slipped while he was moving a large bin of food waste. His knee was seriously injured, and a doctor declared him temporarily totally disabled. He had two knee surgeries, and his temporary disability was extended to spring 2005, when he was released to light work duty with restrictions. He was not allowed to push large trash bins, which in some cases could weigh up to 1,200 pounds when full.
At an accommodations committee meeting in 2005, worker asked to be returned to his previous department doing either clerical work or as an operator of a refuse collection vehicle. None of those positions were available, but city did find him a job as a vacant groundskeeper. The following year, however, he again met with accommodations committee because he was having trouble with certain duties – namely climbing and descending stairs with no railings. His knees sometimes buckled.
The committee found him an alternative position in his prior department, though the job required emptying nearly 250 trash cans twice daily. A few months after starting that position, he was treated at a local emergency room for what he claimed was a work-related injury, indicating his knee buckled when he was stepping off a tractor and his lower back was injured.
He was again declared temporarily totally disabled and then returned to work with restrictions a few weeks later, allowed only light duty, semi-sedentary office work. If no such work was available, worker was to be considered temporarily totally disabled. The city had no such positions and worker never returned to the job.
Following several additional accommodation meetings, the city was unable to find reasonable accommodation for worker because he wasn’t minimally qualified for another available job that wasn’t a promotion.
The city then initiated a disability retirement application, but the application was canceled when worker failed to submit necessary documents. Worker then initiated a lawsuit alleging disability discrimination and retaliation.
Trial court did not find evidence supported a finding of discrimination or retaliation – and appellate court affirmed on this point. However, claimant was awarded more than $36,000 on his workers’ compensation claim.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.
Nealy v. City of Santa Monica, Feb. 13, 2015, California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Eight
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Demetres v. East West Construction – Subcontractor Deemed “Co-Employee” , Jan. 31, 2015, Atlanta Worker Injury Lawyer Blog