Stephen Hasner | Workers' Compensation | January 19, 2023
In accordance with Georgia law, workers’ compensation benefits provide financial support to injured employees. These benefits may include medical care, lost earnings, and other financial assistance. Nevertheless, receiving workers’ compensation does not guarantee you will keep your job in the meantime.
Georgia law does not automatically prevent employees from laying off who are receiving workers’ compensation payments–it depends on the circumstances as well as your employer’s motivation.
Scenario #1: Your Employer Lays You Off for Legitimate Business Reasons
Suppose you suffer a work-related injury, and your employer lays you off while you are at home recuperating. Under Georgia law, employees are “at-will” unless the employer and employee agree otherwise. This means that your employer can fire you at any time for legitimate business reasons, such as an effort to reduce payroll costs.
Check Your Employment Contract
If you have entered into an employment agreement with your employer (typically in writing), your employer cannot lay you off in violation of the terms of your contract. If you have a written employment contract, read it carefully and have your lawyer review it. You have a contract claim against your employer if they laid you off. This claim is unrelated to your injury.
Scenario #2: Your Employer Fires You or “Lays You Off” Because of Your Injury
Firing you or laying you off (however you want to put it) because of your injury is a form of retaliation, and retaliation is illegal under Georgia law. It doesn’t change anything if your employer concealed their real reason for laying you off with an excuse. As long as you can uncover the real reason, you have a claim for retaliation, and you can file a wrongful termination lawsuit.
The “Undue Hardship” Exception
Your employer can justify laying you off for your injury if retaining you would cause them “undue hardship.” Although it is not always obvious exactly how much hardship is “undue”, the smaller your employer is, the more likely they will be able to use the “undue hardship” loophole.
To use the “undue hardship” exception, your employer must prove that you cannot perform the essential functions of the job even after your employer makes reasonable accommodations for your disability. Following are some examples of “reasonable” accommodation:
- Allowing you to take limited time off to go to doctor’s appointments or physical therapy;
- Providing you with specialized equipment so that you can do your job (within limits);
- Reassigning you to another position that better accommodates your limitations; or
- Changing the physical layout of your workspace to allow you to do your job.
If you can perform the essential functions of your job with reasonable accommodation, your employer cannot fire you or “lay you off” because of your injury.
Words like “reasonable” are ambiguous, and they often become issues that lawyers argue about in court. If you can still perform the essential functions of your job with reasonable accommodation, your employer’s “undue hardship” excuse fails, and you can file a wrongful termination lawsuit against your employer.
Scenario #4: You Cannot Return to Work Because of Your Injury
If you suffer a work-related injury in Savannah and you cannot return to work due to your injuries, you may be able to negotiate a workers’ compensation severance settlement with your employer. This may involve either a one-time contribution or continuing financial support. An expert attorney can assist you in negotiating a favorable settlement.
Fight Back: Retain a Lawyer
Workers’ compensation claims can get complex, especially when issues such as “undue hardship” come into play. It is essential to remember that every circumstance is distinct, and the best course of action will rely on the particulars of your individual case. If you are confused, that is all the more reason to consult a Savannah workers’ compensation lawyer. A knowledgeable attorney can assist you in understanding your rights and options.
Contact the Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Hasner Law, P.C. For Help
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