As common as they are, few things can be as contentious – and as sensitive – as navigating a workers’ compensation claim. It can be a legal minefield for both employees and employers, and both have to be extremely careful during the entire process.
Can an Employer Fire an Injured Worker?
State laws vary in terms of an employer’s flexibility to terminate an employee who is out of work because of a workplace injury. Even in states where it might be permissible, it can still result in fines or penalties.
Strictly speaking, Colorado is an employment-at-will state, which “provides that in the absence of a contract to the contrary, neither an employer nor an employee is required to give notice or advance notice of termination or resignation. Additionally, neither an employer nor an employee is required to give a reason for the separation from employment.” The Colorado Supreme Court upheld this doctrine, with limited exceptions, in the 1987 Continental Airlines Inc. v. Keenan ruling.
As such, employers are permitted to terminate an injured employee while a workers’ compensation claim is still active. Even so, as long as the employee is not terminated for cause, they may still be entitled to wage loss benefits if they are still under a work restriction.
However, what is legal and what is prudent are often two different things. The employer must be careful to avoid any appearance that the termination is related to, or is the result of, the workers’ compensation claim. Terminating an employee in the middle of a claim can easily appear to be retaliatory, which is against the law.
Can an Injured Worker Quit?
The short answer is, yes, an injured worker can quit their job at any time. However, like the employer, it is not necessarily advisable.
After you are hurt on the job and reported that injury to your employer, it is imperative that you visit their designated medical provider as soon as possible. After you have been examined, the doctor will advise you of your ability to return to work, and in what capacity. They will let you know if you can return to work right away, if you have to wait, or if you can return to work under a limited physical activity designation.
Whatever the doctor decides, you are required by Colorado workers’ compensation law to follow that recommendation to the best of your ability. If you miss work after you have been cleared to return, or if you simply quit, you risk losing benefits to which you would otherwise be entitled.
For example, the doctor might approve you for “light work duty” and advise you what you’re capable of. This might include restrictions such as, “Cannot lift over 25 pounds,” or “Must remain seated for the majority of work.” Your employer may assign you different job duties to accommodate these restrictions, such as answering phones or data entry, but they are not required to.
It is worth noting that an employer is not obligated to offer you a work accommodation. If they do not, you can still collect wage loss compensation. However, if they do try to accommodate your injury by offering you alternative duties or a different job altogether, and you refuse, you risk forfeiting those benefits.
Listen to Your Doctor — and an Attorney
While the frustration of handling job functions you normally wouldn’t may make you want to quit, it is in your best interest to try. Following the doctor’s advice, and accepting your employer’s accommodation, will ensure you do not aggravate your injury and preserve your workers’ compensation claim.
Colorado’s workers’ compensation claims process is incredibly complicated, even for the experts. If you have been hurt at work, do not do anything without consulting with an attorney. Call the experienced Colorado workers’ compensation lawyers at Burg Simpson at 303-792-5595 or fill out a FREE Evaluation Form today.