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Any negative comments about work injury may lead to lawsuit

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in Employee Benefits Program,Employment Law,Human Resources

It’s frustrating when an employee you don’t think is seriously injured files a workers’ compensation claim, especially months after the alleged injury. However, you must resist the temptation to react negatively—for example, by bad-mouthing the employee.

If you do something like that and then have to discipline the employee for something unrelated to the workers’ comp claim, your intemperate comments will come back to haunt you.

Recent case: Gene Jedlowski worked as a public works inspector who sometimes was pressed into service plowing snow. While plowing during a December storm, he hit a sewer cover, which caused him to bump his head against the roof of the truck.

By May, Jedlowski had been diagnosed with four herniated disks in his neck. He took leave and filed for workers’ compensation benefits. His boss told others he thought it wasn’t right that Jedlowski was taking time off, since they were short-handed.

Jedlowski’s boss asked him to come back to work. That same day, the boss found a CD with racist lyrics on it in the truck’s CD player. He then recommended Jedlowski be discharged as soon as he returned from leave.

The employer fired Jedlowski on his first day back. He sued, alleging retaliation for filing a Michigan workers’ compensation claim. The employer said it had legitimate reasons for the discharge—namely, playing racist music in its truck.

The court said the case could go to trial. It pointed to the timing. First, it was clear the boss resented Jedlowski’s absence and the workers’ comp claim. Second, the timing was closely related to the filing and the leave. Taken together, that hinted at the possibility of illegal retaliation. (Jedlowski v. Charter Township of Genesee, No. 06-15695, ED MI, 2007)

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