When an employer retaliates against a Massachusetts worker for filing a workers’ compensation claim, the employer acts illegally. Retaliation does not always mean termination. It can also mean giving a worker a bad performance review, demoting the employee, intimidating the employee in the workplace, or a negative reassignment.
On the other hand, an employer can discipline or terminate a worker for another legitimate reason, so long as that reason is not a pretext for retaliating in relation to workers’ compensation or another law.
A 2009 case failed precisely because the plaintiff was terminated for a reason clearly not connected to his workers’ compensation claim. In that case, the worker filed a lawsuit against his employer after his employment was terminated, alleging among other things retaliatory termination based on his filing a workers’ compensation claim and discriminatory termination based on a handicap.
The plaintiff had worked for the defendant employer for four years, first as a driver and next as an appliance installer. He learned how to install by observing someone for two weeks. His installation work included the cutting and fitting of all kinds of pipes and running electrical wire. The latter type of work is only supposed to be done by a licensed electrician. The plaintiff was not licensed as either an electrician or a plumber and neither was his coworker.
In 2004, a plumbing inspector found him and his coworker installing a dishwasher without the requisite licenses or permits and directed them to stop working. When he told his manager, the manager told him to avoid the inspector’s truck. When he asked his supervisor about the legality of doing this, he was told the inspections were illegal and told again to avoid the inspector’s truck.
In response the plaintiff said if the installations were illegal, he didn’t think he should do them. The supervisor was angered, but the plaintiff continued to work for a little while.
His knee was injured while lifting a dishwasher. He got a note from the doctor’s office excusing him from work. He told his manager about the injury, but his manager told him he had come in despite his injury.
When he came the next day, he was told to work a regular day by another manager. He was told that he should have his partner do the heavy lifting on Friday. He didn’t object.
Thereafter he was fired, supposedly for saying a slur. He continued to get treatment for his knee, which required two surgeries to be fixed. After that he filed a workers’ compensation claim relating to the knee injury. He received a weekly payment for full disability for 1 1/2 years, partial disability for 1 year, and a lump sum payment.
Nonetheless he filed suit for retaliation. After the presentation of evidence the plaintiff’s employer moved for a directed verdict on each claim. The motion was granted on the basis of insufficient evidence.
The employee appealed, arguing that it was error to grant a motion for directed verdict and that the judge had improperly excluded an employee handbook from evidence.
Reviewing, among other things, the employee’s claim that he had been discharged for exercising a right under the workers’ compensation act, the court explained he hadn’t taken action under the act until after his termination. Therefore there was no way that his termination could be related to his claim. However, the case was sent back to the lower court for a new trial on a different theory.
If you are injured on the job, retaining an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney may be your smartest decision. We can fight for the benefits you and your family need. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.