The purpose of the workers' compensation benefits program is to allow workers to be compensated for injuries they sustain at work, without having to prove fault. The benefit of this program for the employer is that, in exchange for these benefits, the employee agrees not to file a lawsuit regarding those injuries. As simple a concept as it is, the workers' compensation system is riddled with problems. Recent reports have indicated that retaliation by employers has become one of the more serious problems.
What do the statistics show?
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the number of workplace injuries has decreased by 30% over the last 10 years. This is a very significant drop. The cause has been attributed to many different factors, including safer work conditions. However, some experts say a major factor in the decrease of reported injuries is the increase in retaliation. Companies are taking more aggressive steps to discourage workers from reporting their injuries. One sign that this may be true is the fact that, although workers' compensation claims have dropped, the number of workers' compensation retaliation claims has doubled.
OSHA's opinions about the causes of workplace injuries
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has determined that far too many workplace injuries have gone unreported in recent years. OSHA's investigations have found that most workplace injuries still arise out of unsafe working conditions, rather than employee negligence. For this reason, if an employee reports an injury, a subsequent investigation may lead to the company's liability for fines and other violations. Some common injuries resulting from dangerous job sites include:
- Climbing injuries
- Bending injuries
- Being struck by objects
Employers' responses to workplace injuries
The response some employers have to workplace injuries is to blame the employee for the injury and challenge the claim. Some employers go so far as to penalize employees for making a workers' compensation claim. With the job market still somewhat unstable, many employees are fearful of bringing workers' compensation claims because of the potential consequences.
Obviously, this goes against the purpose and goals of the workers' compensation system, which is to quickly provide relief to workers injured on the job.
What is Workers' Compensation Retaliation?
Retaliation is essentially taking an "adverse employment action" against an employee for "engaging in legally protected activity." Filing a claim for a work-related injury, under the Workers' Compensation Act, is considered a legally protected activity. In other words, an employee is authorized, under Alabama law, to file this type of claim and the employee is protected from any negative consequences from his or her employer.
Alabama's law against workers' compensation retaliation
The Alabama Workers' Compensation Act was amended in 1985 in order to provide a prohibition against retaliation. The amended language states as follows:
No employee shall be terminated by an employer solely because the employee has instituted or maintained any action against the employer to recover workers' compensation benefits under this chapter or solely because the employee has filed a written notice of violation of a safety rule pursuant to subdivision (c) (4) of Section 25-5-11.
If an employer takes any adverse employment action against the employee, such as demotion or termination, then the employer has retaliated against the employee, which is illegal.
If you feel you have questions regarding workers' compensation retaliation, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.