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Can my employer fire me for filing a workers' comp claim?

You were hurt on the job, the medical bills are higher than you ever dreamed, and you're going file a workers' compensation claim. You believe you have a claim because of the nature of your injury, where it occurred, and your rights as a worker in North Carolina. You need that compensation, not just to pay your medical bills, but to help make ends meet while you're out.

There's just one thing holding you back: You think your boss might fire you. He or she knows you may file and isn't pleased. It could cause insurance costs to go up and cost the company money. Plus, they have to hire a temporary worker to replace you anyway. You think they're just going to hand you a pink slip and show you to the door.

Is that legal? Can you be terminated just for trying to get the compensation you legally deserve?

Typically, you cannot. The general rule in these situations is that firing a worker after a comp claim is discrimination. It's retaliation. Workers have a right to compensation and companies aren't allowed to fire them or use the threat of firing to intimidate them into failing to file. That would be a violation of the employees' basic rights after a legitimate workplace injury.

This doesn't mean you can't ever lose your job after being injured. For example, you may be permanently disabled, not temporarily disabled. You're not coming back to work and they know it. Medical evidence supports it. If you're a roofer, for example, and the injury leaves you paralyzed from the waist down, there's no way you can come back to your job.

In some situations, though, companies will work with you to find a different job you can do, or they'll alter your duties so that you can complete them even with the disability. However, they may need to let you go and replace you. This is sometimes allowable if it's deemed a business necessity. They don't want to fire you, but they have to replace you right away or the company is going to lose money.

Burden of proof

With these exceptions, though, the thing to remember is that the burden of proof is on your employer. It's also quite high. It has to be utterly proven that the firing is not retaliation. To avoid these allegations, the company may try to find another position for you or, if you are temporarily disabled, they could bring on a temp worker until you can return.

In short, you shouldn't have to worry about retaliation if you file for workers' comp. You deserve it. Retaliation and discrimination against injured workers are both illegal. Always make sure you know your rights, especially if your employer is threatening you with termination and infringing on those rights or if you've already been fired and you're interested in collecting back pay and punitive compensation.

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