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Warn bosses: Don’t punish for workers’ comp

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Minnesota workers injured on the job are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits and can’t be punished for asking for or receiving those benefits.

Remind supervisors and ­managers that it’s their job to manage the work­­force despite injuries and that threatening or actually punishing workers who apply for benefits is illegal.

Minnesota’s law provides that any “person discharging or threatening to discharge an employee for seeking workers’ compensation benefits or in any manner intentionally obstructing an employee seeking ­workers’ compensation benefits is liable in a civil action for damages ...” Essen­­ti­­ally, if a supervisor gives an injured employee a hard time about receiving benefits or insists that the employee come back to work before his doctors recommend, that supervisor opens up the employer to being sued.

Recent case: Richard worked as a delivery person, bringing appliances to customers’ homes. He injured his elbow on duty and was ordered not to work for two weeks. When his supervisor found out, he told Richard to go back and get medical clearance. Richard did, but the injury got worse and eventually he needed surgery. He received workers’ comp benefits.

The supervisor told Richard he needed to get his lawyers to “back off” or things would not “go well.” Richard returned to work, but he was injured again. The supervisor then terminated Richard while he was out on leave. Around the same time, the company also terminated another employee who had suffered a second work-related injury.

Richard sued, alleging his firing was retaliation.

The court said he had a case, based on his supervisor’s comments and earlier actions and his discharge following the second injury. It didn’t help the employer that another injured worker was also terminated after a second injury. (Tomlinson v. J.B. Hunt Transport, No. 12-2030, DC MN, 2013)

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