Every worker in California, regardless of how much they make per hour or how many hours they work per week, should have the protection of workers’ compensation insurance. The benefits available through workers’ compensation will replace someone’s wages if they can’t work because of a medical condition related to their job and will also cover the necessary treatment of that condition.
There are California state laws and federal laws that protect you from retaliation by your employer when you claim workers’ compensation benefits. However, many workers still endure employer misconduct after getting hurt at work.
Can the company fire you in the middle of a benefits claim?
They can terminate you, just not for the claim itself
California is an at-will state for employment arrangements. You are under no legal obligation to continue showing up to work if you change your mind about your job, and the company also has the right to fire you at any point for any reason that is not a direct violation of your rights.
They cannot fire you for asking for workers’ compensation benefits, nor can they fire you for asking for medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) during your recovery. However, if you are still unable to return to work when you have exhausted your paid time off and your FMLA leave, then the company may have to make decisions about your employment.
They may be able to offer you an alternate position in another department. If you are not able to continue working and do not have a fixed return to work date, your employer could justify the decision to terminate you based on your inability to work and the need to replace you with a worker who is readily available to do the job that you once performed.
The company could terminate you because they get rid of an entire department or have started downsizing due to a merger or shrinking profit margins. You will need to prove to the courts that your termination relates to your workers’ compensation claim specifically or is the result of requesting accommodations like FMLA leave or light-duty work.
You have to know your rights to assert them
A surprising number of people think that they will lose workers’ compensation coverage when they lose their job or that they have no option to fight a termination during a benefits claim. Your best chance of a successful claim will come from familiarizing yourself with employment laws and carefully reviewing what protections might apply in your current circumstances.
Identifying acts that could constitute employer retaliation will help you stand up for yourself after you get hurt on the job.