Can You Be Fired While Receiving Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
One of the most common fears that injured workers have is being fired for some reason related to their injury. The law expressly prohibits employers from terminating an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim, and most employers are careful not to do this. But what about finding a reason to fire a worker later on? Unfortunately, even though there are some safeguards in place, that’s a trickier problem to solve.
At Beedem Law, we advocate for injured workers at all stages of the workers’ compensation process. On this page, we discuss what the law says about terminating workers while they are receiving benefits and what you may be able to do to protect yourself.
Courts Have Interpreted Unclear Statutory Language
When the legislature amended the Workers’ Compensation Act in 1995, it added a provision dealing with terminations for “misconduct”. The statute now provides that if temporary total compensation has ceased because the employee returned to work, it may be restarted under certain circumstances. However, wage loss (TTD) benefits will not recommence if an employee is terminated for misconduct. Minn. Stat. § 176. 10 l (l)(e)(1). Unfortunately, the legislature did not define “misconduct” when it inserted this statutory provision into the Workers’ Compensation Act. The courts have determined that “misconduct” is not the equivalent of a termination “for cause.” The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals has also determined that the definition of misconduct for workers’ compensation proceedings is the same standard used in unemployment cases. Under this standard, misconduct:
. . . is limited to conduct evincing such willful or wanton disregard of an employer’s interests as is found in deliberate violations or disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of his employee, or in carelessness or negligence of such degree or recurrence as to manifest equal culpability, wrongful intent or evil design, or to show an intentional and substantial disregard of [the] employer’s interest or of the employee’s duties and obligations to the employer. On the other hand, mere inefficiency, unsatisfactory conduct, failure in good performance as the result of inability or incapacity, inadvertencies or ordinary negligence in isolated instances, or good-faith errors in judgment or discretion are not to be deemed misconduct. Tilseth v. Midwest Lumber Co., 295 Minn. 372, 204 N.W.2d 644 (1973).
Notwithstanding the adoption of this standard, the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals has cautioned against the strict application of re-employment compensation precedence in a workers’ compensation context. In short, the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals determined that unemployment cases are not “meaningful or precedential.” Hughes v. Versa/Northern Iron, 58 W.C.D. 520 (1998).
An Important Takeaway For Injured Workers
You can’t necessarily prevent your employer from finding some excuse to fire you if they are set on doing so, but you can avoid the most common pitfall. The biggest reason for termination is a failure to keep the employer notified of your current status. Therefore, you need to keep your employer notified of your return to work status, your restrictions and your ongoing medical treatment. It will avoid problems down the road. When you hire us as your workers’ compensation attorneys, we take the time to discuss matters like this with you in an attempt to make your case and your return to work as smooth as possible.