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Beware retaliation after workers’ comp claim

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Under Minnesota’s workers’ compensation laws, employees who file workers’ comp claims are protected from retaliation. The law says employers can’t punish employees for seeking benefits.

But some employers have been trying to preempt so-called protected activity when an em­­ployee is injured at work. They argue if they filed the claims on behalf of the injured worker, there is no protected activity and they cannot be charged with retaliation. That’s an erroneous interpretation of the law.

Recent case: Wendy worked for a Walmart store. She was injured when a lock fell off a ledge and hit her neck. The company had a policy of automatically opening a workers’ compensation claim immediately after any reported workplace injury. Walmart did so in Wendy’s case.

Shortly afterward, Walmart fired her for allegedly violating a safety rule: Leaving the lock on the ledge.

She sued, alleging retaliation for engaging in protected activity under the workers’ compensation laws.

Walmart argued she hadn’t engaged in protected activity because she never actually filed a complaint—the retailer had.

The court wrote that by Wal-mart’s logic, an employer could always avoid liability for retaliation if it immediately filed a workers’ compensation claim. Rea­­son­­ing that this was unfair and not consistent with the law’s intent to compensate injured workers, the court rejected Wal-mart’s defense and allowed the case to go forward. (Doering v. Wal-Mart, No. 12-2629, DC MN, 2014)

Final note: Wendy also claimed interference with her right to FMLA leave. She was fired after she told Walmart she was going to see her doctor, but before she had the exam results. The court let that case proceed, too, because an employer can’t avoid liability by immediately firing the employee before she knows the result of tests that may or may not support FMLA leave.

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