The state of South Carolina is an at-will employment state, which means employees can get the pink slip at any time and for almost any reason. Your employer can even fire you for no reason.
However, both state and federal law protect workers from wrongful termination in specific cases. One of these is when you file a workers’ compensation claim after a workplace injury.
Were you injured on the job, and now you fear for your employment? Here’s what you need to know about getting fired after a workplace injury.
Can Your Employer Fire You for Opening a Workers Compensation Claim?
No, your employer cannot fire you for filing for workers’ compensation after a workplace injury. They also cannot fire you for making a complaint about a potential workplace safety violation.
If you get fired because you asked for workers’ comp, then you were likely fired illegally. These kinds of firings usually fall under the act of retaliation.
You have rights under one or two laws in the event you are injured at work. First, your employer must abide by South Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act. Second, your employer must meet the demands of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
What Are Your Rights Under the Workers’ Compensation Act?
South Carolina’s Workers’ Compensation Act allows employees injured at or because of work to apply for workers’ compensation. Workers’ comp covers medical bills, lost income, and opens the door to permanent disability benefits (if required).
Workers’ compensation benefits begin after your injury has kept you out of work for eight days. If your injury is severe, your benefits continue for 150 days. They can also continue past 150 days if your injury becomes a permanent disability.
However, the law is also strict in comparison to other states. For example, you must see a doctor approved by your employer, and your employer can select your doctor if they choose. If you see a different doctor – of your choosing – then your employer can decide not to pay.
While there are times when an employer can reject your claim (such as if you had some sort of fault in your injury), they cannot fire you for your application.
If you get fired, it can’t be because of your injury or disability.
Additionally, your employer must give you the time you need to recover – until you reach your maximum medical improvement (MMI).
Most employers are careful about firing anyone on workers’ comp because those cases are highly scrutinized. Getting fired causes you to lose your workers’ compensation benefits, which means your employer doesn’t need to pay, and they can restore productivity in the role you occupied.
If you suspect your employer terminated your contract to get out of paying workers’ compensation or if they fired you before reaching MMI, then you may have a wrongful termination case.
What Are Your Rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
The ADA protects Americans with disabilities, which applies to you if your workplace injury becomes a long-term disability (as assessed by a medical professional). To qualify, you must have evidence of substantial impairment. In other words, your permanent disability impacts your ability to perform essential functions in some way and will do for the rest of your career.
If you are disabled, the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations. They must offer you modified work schedules, buy devices to help you complete your work, restructured duties, or even reassign you to an open position that better suits your needs.
When neither you or your employer are sure how to make it work, then you can contact services like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Job Accommodation Network, or state or local vocational rehabilitation agencies.
Employers who don’t do this violate federal law.
However, the ADA only goes so far. Your employer only needs to accommodate you to the point where it might cause undue hardship. For example, if keeping you in your role eats into their budget and damages productivity, they don’t need to make those disruptive accommodations. As a result, the ADA expects more from larger organizations than it does from smaller businesses.
In other words, an employer can’t fire you for filing a workers’ comp claim, nor can they fire you for being disabled: it’s a violation of the ADA. However, they do not need to create a new position or take extreme measures to keep you either.
Do You Have a Wrongful Termination Case?
To prove that you have a wrongful termination case, you must first prove that the act was retaliatory. In other words, you need to prove you were fired because you filed a workers’ comp claim, which is a protected activity. There can’t be other valid reasons for your dismissal.
In addition to a wrongful termination case, you may also have a personal injury case – even if you receive workers’ compensation. You should speak to a workplace injury attorney if your injury was:
- the result of a defective product (sue the manufacturer)
- the product of a toxic substance (sue the manufacturer)
- caused by intentional conduct on behalf of your employer (sue your employer)
- caused by work but your employer doesn’t have workers’ compensation insurance
- caused by a third party
The difference between a workers’ comp case and a personal injury case is that workers’ compensation doesn’t require fault. To have a personal injury case, you need to prove liability.
Have You Suffered a Workplace Injury? What to Do Next
If you filed a workers’ compensation claim after a workplace injury, then your employer cannot fire you for opening the case. Doing so is retaliation and is illegal under state and federal law.
However, that doesn’t mean that they can’t fire you for other reasons. Your employer also doesn’t need to guarantee you a job after your injury.
Were you injured at work? Don’t sign anything until you speak to a workplace injury lawyer. Click here to get in touch and learn more about your rights.
Thomas E. Pope is a Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Medical Malpractice Attorney who practices in Rock Hill, Lake Wylie, and Lancaster, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 31 years now. Thomas E. Pope believes in protecting the injured. Learn more about his experience here.