One of the most common questions that individuals have about workers’ compensation is whether the employer can terminate or otherwise penalize the employee for seeking workers’ compensation. Employees are often afraid to file workers’ compensation claims out of fear of retaliation from the employer. When an injury occurs to a worker during the course of employment, the worker may fear that the employer will blame the worker for the for injury. What is more, the worker may also fear that the employer will be upset about the unwanted attention surrounding the injury. As a result, many employees do not want to file workers’ compensation claims out of fear of retaliation from their employers, most notably termination.
Fortunately for employees, employers are not permitted to terminate employees for reporting a work injury or for filing a claim for workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation is intended to help workers handle their medical expenses and loss of wages from suffering a workplace injury. As a result, Tennessee Division of Workers’ Compensation wants to encourage injured workers to come forward with their claims and not shy away from them. If employers were allowed to penalize workers for reporting their injuries then this would defeat the underlying purpose and goal of the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Act: to compensate workers injured during the course of their employment.
Even though an employer cannot penalize an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim, the employer does not have to keep a job open until the injured employee can return to work. What is more, an injured employee may no longer be able to perform the underlying job functions that the employee could perform prior to the injury. In this situation, the injured employee does not necessarily have the right to return to the job if the injured employee cannot perform the essential job duties.
It is important to understand that an employee can be terminated for other reasons, even though the employee has filed a workers’ compensation claim. Tennessee is known as an at-will employment state. This means that an employer has the right to terminate an employee at anytime time and for any reason, either for cause or without cause. The employer does not necessarily have to have a reason for terminating the employee. The employer, however, may not use performance-related issues as a pretext for terminating an employee if the actual reason for the termination is because the employee filed a workers’ compensation claim. If the employer terminates the employee for cause, the employer will be required to show that the termination was made for good cause. Whether the employer acted in good faith in terminating the employee will depend on the facts and circumstances of each situation.
The Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Bureau does not handle claims for wrongful termination. Instead, these claims are handled under separate wrongful termination claims. If a worker believes that they have been wrongfully discharged as a result of reporting an injury, it may be helpful to reach out to an attorney.