If you are injured at work, you deserve compensation. However, it can be intimidating to tell that to a "too-big-to-fail" company. They may try to make you feel like you are replaceable, or that they might retaliate if you claim your injury was their fault.
Under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act, it is illegal for an employer to fire you solely because you filed a workers' compensation claim; this would be considered an act of retaliation. It is, however, up to the individual employee to prove that it was a purposeful retaliation.
If you can prove the purposeful retaliation, it may seem like you have a clear-cut case. Unfortunately, the situation may be more complicated than that. An employer could defend its choice to fire you for a variety of other "non-pretextual reasons," which may be their right as an "at-will" employer. These could include:
- The employer was planning layoffs before or during the claim
- Because of your injury, your time away from work exceeded the 12 weeks permitted by the FMLA, where eligible
- Because of your injury, you can no longer perform your job duties
- If you disagree with their reason for firing you, you can hire an attorney to review your case and fight for you in or out of court.
Not fired, but something's changed
The only retaliation claim that Illinois law recognizes is for termination. However, even if you have not - or not yet - been fired, you may return to work after filing a workers' compensation claim and find that your employment situation has changed.
There are multiple forms of passive-aggressive office behavior that fall short of actual retaliation but are still cause for concern, such as:
- Change in work location or working conditions
- Change in salary
- Undue increase in number of performance evaluations or strictness in performance
- Removal of privileges including tools, job duties, parking space, working from home, retirement plans, insurance benefits or implications of future restrictions
If any of these things happen to you after filing a workers' compensation claim, or if you feel like you are otherwise being treated differently, you should document what happened as soon as it occurs.
If you are subsequently terminated, you will have a clear record of what happened leading up to the termination. You can then discuss with your attorney whether these lesser actions could be used to demonstrate motive, which could help prove that you were subject to illegal retaliation.
You only have a claim for illegal retaliation under Illinois if you were terminated. If you quit voluntarily, you forfeit your right to claim retaliation.
It is understandable to be nervous about filing a worker's compensation claim in fear of jeopardizing your relationship with your employer. You may be worried about your or your family's benefits, retirement plans or your career.
It is important to remember that employees cannot be trampled or ignored by their employers and that these laws are in place for everyone's protection. It is important for you, your coworkers and your future coworkers to fight for your right to compensation if you are injured at work.