The worst thing you can hear when you are already receiving anemic workers’ compensation benefits is that you have been fired. Sometimes there is a legitimate reason, and the company has an economic need that must be filled. Sometimes, however, the company is simply acting in retaliation for you filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Under Florida law, if you can prove you were either intimidated, threatened, coerced, or fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim, you have a private cause of action in civil court against the employer for retaliatory discharge. Florida Statute §440.205 provides:
No employer shall discharge, threaten to discharge, intimidate, or coerce any employee by reason of such employee’s valid claim for compensation or attempt to claim compensation under the Workers’ Compensation Law.
To establish a prima facie case of retaliation under section 440.205, Florida courts have found that you need to establish three elements: (1) you engaged in a statutorily protected expression, such as filing a claim for medical benefits; (2) your employer took an adverse employment action against you; and, (3) there is a causal connection between you engaging in the statutorily protected expression and the adverse action taken against you.
- Statutorily Protected Expression
The first prong – “statutorily protected expression” can be established by offering evidence that you filed a workers’ compensation claim. Even when a worker informally requests benefits after a work related injury, they have engaged in a statutorily protected expression. The statute prevents employers from discharging an employee in retaliation for any valid claim for compensation or an attempt to file a claim for workers’ compensation. The actual claim need not have yet been filed for you to have a valid claim against an employer. If an employee is injured on the job and undergoes emergency surgery, then asks for the workers’ compensation contact information, this is enough to be a protected expression. If the employer then fires the employee because the employee asked for this information, the employee has a cause of action for retaliatory discharge.
- Adverse Employment Action
This is the easiest element to establish; being fired will do the trick. There is more than one way to show retaliation under the Florida statute, however. Even if an employer does not fire an injured worker, but acts to make their life more difficult by engaging in such acts as cutting pay, making the injured employee do a demeaning job, or demoting the injured employee, the employer is taking adverse employment actions which could be considered retaliatory. considered retaliatory.
- Causal Connection
The third element that must be established in a retaliatory discharge action is a causal connection between participation by the injured employee in a protected expression and an adverse action by the employer. This is many times the most difficult element for the employee to establish.
If the employee is able to establish a prima facie case of retaliatory discharge, the burden shifts to the employer to provide a legitimate reason for the adverse employment action. If the employer can establish a legitimate reason for terminating the injured employee, rather than a pretext for prohibited and retaliatory behavior, Once the employee establishes a prima facie case by proving that the protected activity and a negative employment action are not completely unrelated, the burden shifts to the employer to proffer a legitimate reason for the adverse employment action. If the employer is able to do this, then the burden shifts back to the injured employee to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reason was no more than a pretext.
If you think your employer is guilty of retaliatory discharge against you for filing a workers’ compensation claim, then you should consult a lawyer about your options.