Alabama workers are considered “at-will” employees because that is the law in Alabama. Unless you are one of the special employees who has a written employment contract, you can be terminated for any reason as long as it is not discriminatory. The Federal antidiscrimination laws prevent employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees who are protected by those laws. Another protection available to Alabama employees is against retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim pursuant to Alabama’s Workers’ Compensation statute. Here are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about Alabama Workers’ Comp law and its protection against retaliation.
What Does the Alabama’s Workers’ Compensation Act Say?
The language of the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act provides an important exception to the “at will” doctrine. The Act 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.
The key word is “solely,” which is the language that Courts often focus on in ruling on Workers’ Comp retaliation cases. In other words, if there is another reason to terminate an employee, then the retaliation claim may not survive.
Is Retaliation for Filing for Workers’ Compensation Unlawful?
Although a retaliation claim is not directly related to a workplace injury, employees still have a right to compensation for this illegal conduct. Employers in Alabama are prohibited from taking adverse employment actions against employees for filing Workers’ Compensation claims. This includes termination, demotion, and other employment decisions, based on the fact that you filed a Workers' Compensation claim.
Why are Workers’ Comp Retaliation claims difficult to win?
Workers’ Comp Retaliation cases can be tough to prove, mostly because the employee has a huge hurdle to overcome. The employer’s articulated reason for the termination is considered by the courts to be sufficient as a matter of law when the facts are undisputed and there is no substantial evidence of any of the following:
- that the stated basis has been applied in a discriminatory manner to employees who have filed workers’ compensation claims;
- that the stated basis conflicts with express company policy on grounds for discharge, OR,
- that the employer has disavowed the stated reason or has otherwise acknowledged its pretextual status.
Can I File a Lawsuit Against My Employer for a Workplace Injury?
In certain circumstances, an Alabama employee may have the right to sue their employer, outside of the Workers’ Compensation process. There are generally four bases for filing a lawsuit relating to a Workers' compensation injury: intentional acts causing injury, sexual harassment, an employer's failure to maintain appropriate Workers' Compensation insurance and retaliation for filing a Workers' Compensation claim.
Can I Sue for an Intentional Act That Results in a Work-Related Injury?
If your employer or a co-worker does something intentional that causes you harm or injury, you may be able to file a lawsuit. For instance, an employer may intentionally remove safety equipment from dangerous machinery or knowingly refuse to correct a safety violation, which ultimately results in your work-related injury. In those cases, you may have the basis for a lawsuit.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!