Employers faced with increased insurance costs because an employee sought their rightful workers’ compensation benefits, may be tempted to retaliate against that employee. While there is no federal law prohibiting workers’ compensation retaliation, most states have laws guarding employees against such retaliation, depending on the facts of your individual case.
Employees who acted in good faith in filing for workers’ compensation benefits or engaging in protected activity are safeguarded against employer retaliation. Although you may file a retaliation claim even if you did not win your underlying workers’ compensation claim, you may not be protected from retaliation if you knowingly filed a false or fraudulent workers’ compensation claim.
In order to be protected, you must have exercised a right granted by the workers’ compensation program. The best way to make sure anti-retaliation laws cover you is to complete and file the necessary claims documents promptly after becoming injured.
In order to win a case of workers’ compensation retaliation in Washington, generally you must be able to prove all four of the following:
• That you were an employee entitled to receive benefits under workers’ compensation law • That you took a protected activity, such as filing a claim for compensation • That you suffered an unfavorable employment action, such as demotion, termination, change of job duties or employment conditions, lowered pay or unwarranted disciplinary actions • That the employer imposed these actions while motivated by your protected activity
Showing “causation”, or that your employer’s actions were caused by your protected activity, is often the most disputed and difficult part of proving your retaliation claim. Most states, including Washington, require that your protected activity be a determinative factor, and not the sole reason for retaliation.
The circumstances of your individual case will determine if you were illegally discriminated against. Other legitimate reasons for disciplinary actions, such as violation of company policy or poor performance reviews, can sometimes play a large role, and can be used by the employer to defend against your claim of retaliation.
Conversely, unlawful retaliation can be inferred from timing, deviation from normal practices, or a pattern of adverse actions against employees who file workers’ compensation claims.
If you have filed a workers’ compensation claim and suffered retaliation for doing so, you may have a legitimate workers’ compensation retaliation claim. Time limits may apply, and waiting may cost you your rights to take action against your employer.