Employer Retaliation: Understanding Your Rights under Workers' Comp


After being injured on the job, many workers face a complicated workers’ compensation system.  From filing a claim to obtaining proper medical treatment, there are significant opportunities for an injured worker to face obstacles.  One often talked about is retaliation.

What exactly is retaliation and how does it work in workers’ compensation? Retaliation occurs when an employer penalizes an employee, or employees, for engaging in a protected activity.  In workers’ compensation, that means an employer punishes an employee for filing a workers’ comp claim, or in some cases even attempting to file a claim. 

Retaliation can come in several forms, the most commonly understood is termination.  In all states, laws and regulations prohibit an employer from firing an employee for filing a workers’ comp claim.  But it doesn’t end there.  Depending on the state you live in, a demotion, pay cut, change in job responsibilities, and even unwarranted discipline could be considered retaliation.

Under the laws, employers are prohibited from retaliating against an employee for filing a workers’ comp claim to limit their influence over an employee.  Employees are guaranteed rights under state laws that when they are injured on the job as a result of their job, they are entitled to medical treatment and lost wages from the employer.  By preventing an employer from acting negatively against an employee for attempting to collect workers’ comp, the law is ensuring the employees are protected in their right to seek workers’ comp. 

That said, it’s not always a guarantee.  Again, depending on the state that you live in, you may be able to make a retaliation claim even if your workers’ comp claim is ultimately denied, but you might not be protected if you purposely file a false or fraudulent claim.  In addition, employers have the opportunity to defend themselves.  While you might believe your pay cut was retaliation for a workers’ comp claim, employers may argue that everyone in your position received a pay cut at that time as a cost savings measure. 

Related: Medicare Set Aside and Workers' Comp

Whether or not it’s retaliation often turns on what is fair.  Was it fair for your employer to take that action against you? Did they have a legitimate business reason for the decision? Were other employees, who did not file a claim, also effected by the change?  It’s a complicated system but in the end injured workers are protected in several ways by workers’ comp statutes and it’s important to know your rights.


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