Getting hurt on the job isn’t just painful and disabling—it can lead to major fears about your employment status, your career, and your future. For many people, those fears are only slightly abated when they file for and receive workers’ compensation benefits.
Although they’re receiving partial replacement income while they heal from their injuries, they may worry about how things will be when they return to work, including whether their jobs will be waiting for them and if they’ll still have the same opportunities for advancement as they did before. Some even worry that they will come back to reduced responsibilities, a lesser title, and diminished pay.
Federal law provides many protections for injured and disabled workers, as does the Indiana Workers’ Compensation Board. But what do those protections say about demotions while receiving benefits?
Although Indiana is considered an “at-will” employment state, employers cannot fire or demote workers for applying for or receiving workers’ compensation benefits. This is considered “legal retaliation,” and it’s illegal in all 50 states. That means you should feel confident and assured when you tell your employer about your injury and begin taking the steps needed to get workers’ compensation benefits while you recover.
Being Indiana is an “at-will” employment state, your employer can fire or demote you for any reason and at any time, even if you are out of work and collecting workers’ compensation benefits. Your employer doesn’t even need to provide a reason for why they’re demoting you while you’re on workers’ comp.
Because workers’ compensation is designed to provide only temporary replacement income under the assumption that the injured worker will eventually return to work, it’s typically not in employers’ best interests to fire or demote injured workers. That’s especially true when those workers are highly skilled or integral to the daily business of the companies they work for. By the time they find replacement workers, the injured workers may have healed from their injuries and be ready to return to work.
No, and they won’t be reduced if you get demoted, either. Once you apply for and are approved to receive workers’ compensation benefits at a certain weekly or monthly rate, those benefits are locked in until your doctor clears you to return to work, regardless of what happens with your employment status or title.
That means that you can be demoted or even fired and continue to receive workers’ compensation benefits for weeks, months, or even years until you’re healthy enough to return to work—even if you have no job to return to or the job that’s waiting on you pays less than what you made before.
In some cases, employers want to replace lost labor immediately, and they may fire or demote injured workers right away. However, there is one step injured workers can take to protect themselves from being fired: filing for the Federal Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This provides workers with serious health conditions or family emergencies with up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave.
Although FMLA protects against being fired or demoted, it doesn’t provide any replacement income by itself. To obtain that, you’ll need to file for workers’ compensation benefits.
You also may be eligible for protection from termination or demotion through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law that prohibits employers from firing or demoting workers with significant long-term impairments. Receiving protection under the ADA often requires receiving a diagnosis of long-term disability and impairment from a doctor.
Every injured worker is different—their injuries are different, their employers are different, and their job duties are different. While one worker may have a caring and cooperative employer, another may have an employer who can’t wait to demote or even fire them if they get hurt on the job.
That’s why it’s so important to have an experienced Indiana workers’ compensation lawyer on your side from day one. Workers’ compensation cases are complex, especially when employers are combative or when they demote or fire workers who apply for or receive benefits. Although they’re in their right to do so, they often run the risk of violating state or federal laws, but injured workers without lawyers often never know that their rights have been violated.
Contact Fleschner, Stark, Tanoos & Newlin today for a free consultation. We know the state’s workers’ compensation system, and we know how to protect your rights.
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The financial burden that often comes with a serious injury can be too much for many people to bear. Unexpected medical debt, damaged personal property, and the sudden loss of income can impact the budgets of most families. The good news is that a successful injury claim could help reduce that financial strain after a serious accident. Get in touch with a Terre Haute personal injury lawyer with Fleschner, Stark, Tanoos & Newlin to learn more.
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