Employees who file workers’ compensation claims are protected from retaliation—essentially any change in working conditions that would lead a reasonable employee to rethink her decision to seek benefits. That can include sudden scrutiny of the employee’s work.
That’s why HR should look carefully at any increased discipline against those who file workers’ comp claims. Compare before- and after-injury disciplinary histories. If something seems amiss, have a heart-to-heart talk with supervisors and explain retaliation.
Recent case: Crystal Tullis, who worked at a Walmart store, collected workers’ compensation after she suffered a work-related leg injury. When she returned, she claimed that she suddenly started being closely scrutinized for work performance and compliance with rules. Then she was fired for allegedly lying down on a pallet.
She sued, alleging retaliation for filing the workers’ compensation claim.
She testified that she had merely been picking up dropped cans; whereas her boss thought she was lying down on the job. She also said she had never been disciplined before she made the claim. That was enough for the judge to order a trial. (Tullis v. Wal-Mart, No. 09-1069, SD IL, 2010)
Final note: Courts are always suspicious when an otherwise exemplary employee suddenly begins having problems at work. That’s especially true when the problems seem subjective and aren’t easily measured, or when discipline seems far more severe than the offense warrants. Add bad timing, and the employee will get a shot at a jury trial.