In handling a wide variety of Atlanta workers' compensation cases, we hear many of the same questions over and over. One of those questions is, "Will I be fired if I report a work injury?"
The answer can be complicated. In Georgia, employees can be terminated legally for virtually any reason. Can you be fired for reporting a work injury? Yes, it happens all the time. Will you be fired if you report an on the job injury? Well, it depends. Different employers and managers have different policies on this issue that may or may not comply with State and Federal law. The better question is....what can be done to enforce the terminated employee's rights given the circumstances of the firing?
Can I Be Legally Fired?
Georgia law prohibits an employer from firing an employee in retaliation for reporting a work injury or making a claim for workers' compensation. However, this legal protection is rather limited. Simply being hurt at work does not protect one's employment in any meaningful way. In other words, it's not illegal to fire someone who is hurt at work if the employer has a reason for the termination. For example, it is unlikely that an employer would say, "You're fired!" just because you say you were hurt at work. The employer would typically come up with another, more legitimate reason for the termination that would affect any employment-related claim for damages or benefits. Under Georgia workers' compensation law, firing an employee for getting hurt on the job would likely result in a higher amount of benefits due to the employee.
With Georgia being an "at will" employment state, there are a lot of legitimate reasons to be fired. These include but are certainly not limited to being habitually late for work, not performing one's duties as expected, stealing on the job, failing to abide by safety protocols, or destroying company property. An employee can also be let go simply because he or she is no longer needed; downsizing and layoffs are fairly common, especially in larger workplaces.
There may also be some protections for the terminated employee under Federal law, such as anti-retaliation and anti-discrimination laws.
Why You Should File a Georgia Workers' Compensation Claim Anyway
The unfortunate fact is that being hurt at work does tend to make an employee more rather than less likely to be fired, even if the accident was not his or her fault and even if the accident is never reported. If the firing is illegal under the law, the worker may be able to seek monetary compensation through a retaliatory discharge lawsuit (and may receive unemployment benefits, depending upon the circumstances).
This is a separate matter from the workers' compensation claim that a worker is entitled to bring for medical expenses, disability, and other losses under Georgia workers' compensation law. The only way to hold an employer or its workers' compensation insurance carrier liable for doctor bills, hospital costs, time off from work, and inability to work in the future is through a workers' compensation claim.
Risking the loss of a steady paycheck can be scary, but for injuries requiring at least some medical care, the worker has little choice but to file a claim (unless he or she is willing to pay for medical care out of pocket - health insurance doesn't cover work injuries - and waive any lost earnings benefits in both the short term and the long term).
Talk to a Work Injury Lawyer in Atlanta
There are many complex legal issues that can arise in cases involving workplace injuries. To schedule an appointment to discuss the details of your particular situation with a knowledgeable Atlanta workers' compensation attorney, call the Law Offices of T. Andrew Miller, LLC, at 678-894-4758 today. We handle work injury, car accident, and personal injury cases throughout the greater Atlanta area.