Q. An employee in our plant was directed by a replacement line supervisor to use a machine that he wasn't trained to operate. The employee stuck his hand into the machine to clear a jam and was injured. The plant supervisor fired the employee while he was still in the hospital for operating machinery he hadn't been trained on. Does the employee have a right to sue us if he was actually ordered by the line supervisor to do this job? —K.C.
A. The extent of the company's liability for damages depends largely on where it's located. That's because many states limit an employee's legal recourse to a workers' comp claim. But, in general, firing employees right after on-the-job injuries isn't a smart move. A court might interpret that firing as your way to prevent the possibility of a subsequent workers' compensation claim. And such are typically a violation of public policy and could be the basis for a retaliation lawsuit, whether or not the company is found liable for the injury.
The other important question is whether the company's actions constituted negligence. Requiring employees to complete a job-specific safety course prior to beginning a new job is one way to avoid liability in this scenario. If the company had that type of formal safety-training policy and the employee was ordered to go against it, chances are strong that a court could find the company negligent.
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