For many people who get hurt at work, filing for workers’ compensation can seem intimidating, if they have reason to believe the boss will fire them for doing so. Firing an employee in retaliation for seeking workers’ comp benefits is illegal in West Virginia, and is considered a form of workplace discrimination.
Still, often it is impossible to prevent this devious practice. Wrongly terminated workers may have to take legal action to get compensation.
A key case from the West Virginia Supreme Court sets out the process of proving wrongful termination under the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act. In the case, Powell v. Wyoming Cablevision, the plaintiff sued his former employer, accusing it of firing him after he hurt his foot on the job and filed for temporary total disability benefits.
In its ruling, the court laid out the framework for establishing a retaliatory firing claim strong enough to give the plaintiff his or her day in court. First, the plaintiff must show he or she sustained a workplace injury. Second, the plaintiff must file for workers’ compensation. Finally, the plaintiff must show that this filing was “a significant factor in the employer’s decision to discharge.”
If the plaintiff has enough evidence of these three factors to make a prima facie claim, the burden of proof shifts to the employer, which now must prove that it did not fire the plaintiff in retaliation for filing for workers’ comp. Instead, the employer must “prove a legitimate, nonpretextual and nonretaliatory reason” for firing the plaintiff.
Determining what your former employer’s management was thinking when they fired you can be difficult, but an experienced attorney knows where to look for evidence.