Knowing whether you can collect worker’s comp after being fired is determined by many factors.
To help you understand your legal options, Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers examine the balance of rights between employers and employees in the context of layoffs while receiving workers comp.
Can You Get Fired While on Workers Comp?
While workers comp does protect your income and medical bills, it doesn’t fully protect your job. Employers can terminate you for valid reasons.
Legal Reasons to Fire an Employee
Employers have a range of legal justifications for terminating a worker, even those who receive workers’ compensation benefits for workplace injuries. While workers’ compensation insurance is in place to cover medical expenses and lost wages, it doesn’t provide job security against all forms of termination.
Legal reasons for termination can vary and may include:
- Poor work performance
- Violation of company policies
When a doctor determines that an injured employee has reached the maximum levels of medical improvement but still has work restrictions, the employer may try to accommodate the worker with a new job with less vigorous physical requirements. Failure to adapt to these new roles can also be grounds for legal termination.
The Illegality of Firing Someone for Filing a Work Comp Claim
In most jurisdictions, it’s unlawful for an employer to fire a worker just because they’ve filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits following a work-related injury. Such actions are considered illegal retaliation and can result in retaliatory discharge lawsuits and hefty fines for the employer.
When an injured worker files a claim, they are essentially notifying their employer and the insurer that they have incurred medical costs and perhaps lost wages due to a work-related injury. Most employers must accommodate these employees, particularly if they have work restrictions until they reach maximum medical improvement.
Employers who terminate employees under these conditions are taking a significant legal risk. The employer can be sued, and the health insurance company providing the workers’ compensation coverage may be held accountable.
Most employees are protected from being fired for this reason, even in employment states where termination can generally occur for any legal reason.
State-Specific Laws on Workers’ Compensation and Termination
The laws governing workers’ compensation and termination of employment differ from state to state. These laws protect workers’ rights while considering employers’ operational needs.
Some states have stringent protections for employees, while others offer more flexibility to employers. Here are some examples:
- Illinois: Strict laws against retaliatory termination for filing a workers comp claim. Illinois is an at-will employment state.
- Indiana: Employers cannot fire a worker solely for filing a workers’ compensation claim but have some leeway in termination decisions.
- Wisconsin: Prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who file a workers comp claim.
- Iowa: Employers can terminate a worker but cannot discriminate based on the filing of a workers’ compensation claim.
- New York: Employers are prohibited from firing employees solely because they filed a workers comp claim.
- Florida: Allows at-will termination but prohibits discrimination against employees who file a workers’ comp claim.
- State of Washington: Employers cannot retaliate against employees for filing a compensation claim.
- California: Prohibits employers from terminating employees solely for filing a workers comp claim.
- Texas: Allows at-will termination even if an employee has an active workers’ compensation claim.
Knowing your state’s laws can help you understand your rights and responsibilities involving a workers’ compensation claim.
The Role of “At-Will” Employees
The term “at-will” employment refers to an employment relationship where either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment at any time, for any reason, as long as that reason is not illegal. This means an employer can fire an employee without providing a reason or notice; similarly, a worker can quit without explaining.
In “at-will” employment states, the rules are generally skewed in favor of employers, giving them considerable latitude in employment decisions. However, there are limitations to this freedom.
For instance, an employer cannot terminate a worker for discriminatory reasons such as race, gender, or religion. Similarly, firing someone solely because they filed a workers’ compensation claim is generally considered unlawful.
The Consequences for Wrongfully Terminating an Employee Receiving Workers Comp
For employers, the decision to terminate an employee receiving workers’ compensation benefits is fraught with legal risks. The laws are designed to protect injured workers, and failure to adhere to these laws can result in severe penalties for the employer.
Employer Liabilities in Illinois
Illinois law is particularly strict on the liability of employers and the protection of all employees who receive workers comp benefits. Employers violating these laws, including wrongful termination, could face civil and criminal repercussions, including fines and potential jail time. 
Retaliatory Discharge Lawsuits
A retaliatory discharge lawsuit can be filed by injured employees who feel they have been wrongfully terminated. Winning such a case could mean back pay, reinstatement to their former position, and punitive damages against the employer.
Employers must understand that work status should not be adversely affected solely because employees receive compensation. Many employers mistakenly think work-related injuries give them a free pass to terminate, not realizing the legal maze they are entering.
What Happens If You Get Fired While on Workers Comp?
Being fired while on workers comp doesn’t necessarily mean losing your benefits. The ability to continue receiving workers comp benefits largely depends on the specific circumstances of your termination and the laws of your state. Consultation with a legal advisor is highly recommended.
Receiving Workers’ Compensation for a Workplace Injury After an Employer Fired You
In most jurisdictions, you can continue receiving workers’ compensation benefits even if terminated. However, the specifics can vary based on why you were fired and the state’s workers comp laws. It’s illegal for employers to terminate workers solely for filing a workers’ compensation claim.
Termination After You Have Reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI)
Reaching MMI can be a pivotal moment in your workers’ comp case. At this point, employers may consider terminating your employment, although this can be fraught with legal risks. Understanding how MMI impacts your workers’ compensation insurance and employment status.
How a Lawyer Can Help if You’ve Been Fired While on Workers Comp
An experienced attorney can help you navigate the complexities of workers comp and employment law. Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC can help you fight for your rights by:
- Offering a free consultation to assess your case
- Helping you gather evidence and build a strong case
- Working on a contingency fee basis, meaning you don’t pay unless you win
If you’ve been the victim of wrongful termination while on worker’s comp, contact a workers’ compensation attorney at (888) 424-5757 to discuss your case.
Resources:  BLS