A worker gets injured on the job, is receiving medical treatment and is placed on temporary work restrictions. If the employer is unable to return her to work under those restrictions, she would then receive temporary total disability benefits under workers' compensation. If work is available within those restrictions, and that worker is then terminated while on light duty, can she still receive temporary total disability? A client of ours was recently told "NO" by her employer, but the Judge found otherwise. While the employer may have the initial say, it sure isn't the final one.
Workers' compensation laws were recently changed in Kansas to match some of the harsher rules that already existed in Missouri. If an injured worker is terminated for cause (post-injury misconduct in Missouri), and the employer can show that it would have been able to accommodate the temporary restrictions, that worker then forfeits any right to temporary total disability benefits. Unfortunately, an injured worker in that situation also doesn't qualify for unemployment benefits. No wages being paid, no workers' temporary total disability and no unemployment benefits means no money coming in to pay the bills!
With these changes, we have seen a definite increase in situations where employers are looking for any excuse they can to fire an injured worker in an effort to get out of paying temporary total disability. This means that the injured worker then has to be doubly careful not to do anything wrong. Even so, the burden is still on the employer to prove that there was a legitimate reason to fire the person. Fortunately, it appears that the judges are holding them to that burden.
Our client had suffered a rather severe injury to her shoulder and neck. She was then offered a light duty job within her restrictions. Within three days, she was told that she was being terminated and that she would receive nothing more than her medical treatment through workers' compensation. When she asked why she was being fired, she was simply told that she wasn't meeting expectations. Fortunately, she knew that this didn't sound right, so she gave us a call.
As soon as possible, we brought the matter before the Judge at preliminary hearing. While we were told of numerous "violations" that our client committed during her employment, they had no proof to offer. There were no written warnings and no witnesses to any wrongdoing. The employer had hoped that yet another injured worker would simply accept what she was being told without questioning it – but not this time! The Judge found that, "No policy of the respondent (employer) was introduced as evidence which claimant (employee) allegedly violated. No reason given claimant for her termination." He then awarded temporary total disability benefits from the date of termination forward until our client is through with her medical treatment or is returned to work.
While you should always avoid doing anything that would justify your being terminated, this is never more true than while you are recovering from a work-related injury. If they find some excuse to fire you, you may still have options. Just remember one thing: You cannot and should not accept everything you are told by either your employer or its workers' compensation carrier about your claim and what you are entitled to. A free consultation with an aggressive and experienced workers' compensation attorney never hurts and may just help more than you could imagine.