Employees may choose just one: Either workers’ comp or retaliation lawsuit

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employee Benefits Program,Employment Law,Human Resources

Here’s a bit of good news for North Carolina employers: The Court of Appeals of North Carolina has rejected a bid to expand the right to sue one’s employer for retaliation.

Recent case: Debbie Beard, who worked for the Cape Fear Valley Health System, filed a series of workers’ compensation claims. First, she hurt her back after running into a doorknob. Then she strained her lower back while moving equipment, followed by another back injury suffered while lifting linen bags … and yet another back injury that occurred when she was tossing linens into a laundry bin outside the emergency room.

Beard collected workers’ compensation benefits, but complained she wasn’t allowed to consult the neurosurgeon she preferred and hadn’t been allowed to return to a light-duty position.

She then filed a claim with the North Carolina Department of Labor, alleging retaliation under the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA).

The Court of Appeals of North Carolina said Beard had no case. All her claims were directly related to her workers’ compensation injuries, and had to be handled under the state’s workers’ compensation laws.

It reasoned that the idea behind workers’ compensation was that employees would have an easy way to collect benefits from on-the-job injuries and that employers would have limited liability. Opening that up to additional lawsuits would frustrate that purpose. (Beard v. Cumberland County Hospital System, et al., No. COA09-1043, Court of Appeals of North Carolina, 2010)

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