Employees have a right to be compensated for injuries they sustain on the job, and workers' compensation makes the process of paying their medical bills and other expenses easier. However, some employers resent it when workers file claims and retaliate against them in various ways. Here's what you can do if you find yourself in this situation.
Start Gathering Evidence
A company can face severe penalties if the court finds it guilty of retaliating against employees for filing claims. Since workers' compensation is a state-run program, the exact penalties vary depending on where you live. In New Mexico, for instance, a company can be hit with a $5,000 fine for each violation of the state's anti-retaliation law. Employees can also sue for any losses and damages they suffer as a result of the company's unfair actions, such as lost wages and career opportunities.
However, you must provide proof that your employer retaliated against you because of your claim. This can be challenging since companies are allowed to make changes in the workplace based on business decisions. Although you may feel your boss fired you because of your claim, for example, the court will side with the company if your boss can show the change was the result of a business issue (e.g. entered the slow season).
Therefore, the first thing you should do is collect evidence to prove your case. For instance, if your hours are cut, ask if other people's hours are being cut too. If your boss becomes defensive or refuses to answer the question, talk to other employees about their schedules. Save all emails, letters, and relevant video and audio recordings, and keep a diary of incidents that occur. This can provide a record of behavior on your employer's part that may make it clear he or she is retaliating against you for your claim.
Talk to Your Employer
If you feel comfortable doing so, talk to your employer about your concerns. However, make sure you know your rights first. Your employer may not realize that he or she can be penalized for retaliating against you and/or may not have any qualms about making false statements about your options for stopping him or her from engaging in the adverse action.
It's a good idea to have someone in the meeting with you—preferably an HR or legal representative—who can act as a witness. If you feel going directly to your boss would be a mistake, take your concerns to an HR representative or your boss' supervisor. This can benefit you in a couple of different ways. First, a human resources representative or your boss' supervisor may be more cognizant of the repercussions of your claims and work with you to resolve the issue. Second, it shows you made an attempt to fix the issue before executing your option to sue, which may leave a positive impression with a judge or jury.
Contact an Attorney
Despite your best efforts, it may not be possible to get your employer to reverse course and stop retaliating against you (or gain access to decision-makers if you were fired). In this case, you should contact a workers' compensation attorney who can help you file a lawsuit against the company to remedy the situation.
You may also need to file a complaint with the workers' compensation board. The board will typically launch an investigation to determine if your employer committed any wrongdoing. If your employer is found guilty, you may be given additional compensation by workers' comp as reparation for your employer's misdeeds.
For more information about workers' comp retaliation or help with your case, contact a law firm like Gilbert, Blaszcyk & Milburn LLP in your area.