A Florida Appellate Court recently held that the fact that an employee
does not file a formal claim for workers’ compensation benefits until
after the employee is terminated does not automatically preclude employee’s
claim for retaliatory discharge.
In this case, the employee was injured while performing workplace duties.
Employee notified the employer of the injury and later informed the employer
that he was having difficulty receiving follow-up treatment for his injuries.
The employer terminated the employee less than two weeks after the work-related injury.
The parties presented conflicting reasons for the employee’s termination.
The employer testified that the employee was terminated because he was
involved in an incident with a co-worker wherein the employee became angry
and threatened the co-worker. A manager had to diffuse the situation and
after the employee admitted to making the threat, the manager terminated
the employee and explained that the employee was being terminated as a
result of the incident and not because of his injury or seeking workers’
compensation benefits. The employee denied that he threatened a co-worker
and denied that he admitted to threatening the co-worker. The employee
claimed that the co-workers were lying about the incident and that the
manger who terminated him did not give him a reason for his termination.
After his termination, the employee filed a claim for retaliatory discharge
under Fla. Stat. §440.205 and a petition for workers’ compensation
benefits. The employer moved for summary judgment arguing that the employee
could not establish a prima facie case of retaliation because his termination
was not casually related to his workers’ compensation claim. The
employer specifically argued that the employee’s termination occurred
before he had filed a petition for workers’ compensation benefits and that
they had a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for terminating the employee.
The trial court agreed with the employer and granted summary judgment.
The employee appealed and the Fourth District Court of Appeal disagreed
with the trial court. The Court found that the trial court erred because
it did not consider
whether the employee’s actions constituted an “attempt to claim
compensation” as required by the statute. The Court further found that the evidence showed
that the employee had sought workers’ compensation benefits by going
to the hospital the day of the injury and notifying his employer of the
injury and his difficulty in obtaining follow-up care. Importantly, the
Court stated that if the trial court’s ruling was allowed to stand,
it would effectively allow an employer to circumvent the statute by terminating
an employee immediately after a workplace injury before an employee even
has a chance to file a claim for benefits.
If you are an employer and you are concerned about employment related issues
such as retaliatory discharge, discrimination, hostile work environment,
and workers’ compensation claims, Rosenthal Law Group is available
to offer guidance and representation to assist you in your matter.