Workers’ compensation will provide an injured worker medical treatment benefits and can also include wage replacement benefits after a work-related injury or accident prevents them from working. For so many people on workers’ comp, the benefits the program provides are their lifeline until they are recovered and able to resume work again, assuming they have not already resumed “light duty” or “sedentary” work. The thought of getting fired while on workers’ compensation is understandably harrowing. But can it happen?
In Georgia, you can be fired while you are on workers’ compensation or while you have a pending workers’ compensation claim. As an at-will state, Georgia allows an employer to fire an employee at any time for any reason that is not unlawful. The employment rule also allows an employee to quit at any time.
Unfortunately, at-will employment means you are given no special employment guarantees just because you are on workers’ compensation. To reiterate, you can be fired, terminated, or laid off while on workers’ comp in Georgia.
Isn’t Firing a Form of Retaliation?
It is important to make the distinction that you can be fired while on workers’ comp, but you cannot be fired because you are on workers’ comp. Using workers’ compensation benefits is one of your rights as an eligible employee, so you cannot be penalized for exercising that right.
If your employer wants to fire you while you are on workers’ compensation, then they need to be sure there is some sort of legal reason for it. Firing an employee on workers’ comp for seemingly no reason will raise suspicions that could lead to a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Your employer will also have a difficult time firing you without first trying to find another form of work for you to conduct while you are recovering. In most situations, an employer will need to find light duty work for an injured employee who wishes to return to work before they can resume their regular job position. For example, a stockroom associate who suffers a back injury from lifting heavy boxes all day could be reassigned to operate a cash register from a seated position. If there is no way to find light duty work for the injured employee, then the employer might be justified in terminating them.
Do You Lose Workers’ Comp Benefits When Fired?
Once you have secured workers’ compensation benefits, they are yours to keep until they expire as originally planned. Losing your job does not cancel your workers’ compensation benefits, including necessary medical treatment coverage and wage replacement benefits if you are getting any. The only thing that can end your workers’ compensation benefits early is fraud, i.e., you falsified information on your workers’ comp claim, and the fraud was uncovered later.
Another workers’ comp benefit that you should not lose even if you are fired is vocational retraining. When a worker’s injury is severe enough to prevent them from returning to their occupation in any capacity, workers’ comp benefits might provide vocational retraining opportunities, like courses to begin a new career that will not be disrupted by their injuries or disabilities.
Legal Support for Injured Workers in Georgia
The Law Offices of Nathaniel F. Hansford, LLC is here to support you if you need to file for workers’ compensation benefits but are worried that you might be fired. Our workers’ compensation lawyers represent people throughout Georgia and from every sort of industry, including construction, retail, food service, office work, first responders, and more. Call (770) 741-2825 or contact us online now to learn more.