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Workers’ comp claim? Resist urge to retaliate!

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in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

The North Carolina Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA) outlaws discharging em­­ployees for filing workers’ compensation claims. It’s a protected activity.

Equally illegal: Jumping the gun by firing employees before they ­actually fill out the workers’ compensation paperwork. Employees are also protected when they inform a supervisor that they may be filing a claim soon.

Recent case: Shannon worked as a property manager for M&M Properties for just three weeks. While cleaning a hotel room as part of his training, Shannon said he injured himself. He reported the incident to his supervisor and said he wanted to check with his doctor before filing a workers’ compensation claim in case he had merely pulled a muscle.

Meanwhile, the company issued a disciplinary warning, outlining problems encountered during Shannon’s training, such as tardiness and lack of communication. He was fired a few days later.

He went ahead with filing the workers’ comp claim—and then followed up with a REDA lawsuit.

The company argued that because Shannon hadn’t filed a claim before he was terminated, he couldn’t argue retaliation.

The court disagreed. Otherwise, employers would be able to fire employees—and dodge liability—as soon as they got hurt. (Fatta v. M&M Properties Man­­agement, No. COA11-1397, Court of Appeals of North Caro­­lina, 2012)

Final note: The company won the case in the end. It was able to persuade the court that the threat to file the workers’ compensation claim wasn’t related to the company’s decision to fire Shannon.

The company backed up its disciplinary notice with plenty of evidence that Shannon wasn’t working out.

He was late for work, took ex­­cessively long breaks, had trouble dealing with customers and the phone system and generally wasn’t benefiting from the training he received.

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