For workers injured on the job or discriminated against while at the office there is often the concern that reporting the incident may result in loss of their job. While the economy continues its slow recovery, finding another job is not as easy as it once was.

Employers must be careful with how they treat employees who have filed workers’ compensation or discrimination claims or face liability for retaliatory or wrongful termination. Here are several factual scenarios to illustrate the point.

Workers’ comp claim fears

For example, a young adult just starting a career may fear going to the hospital and placing a workers’ compensation claim for a knee injury sustained while working. Concerns stem from work restrictions that might require light duty. If a suitable light duty job is not available, an employer may even fire the employee.

If it isn’t bad enough worrying about what light duty might entail and how long the injury will take to heal, promised advancement opportunities might slip away.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, age or gender

Workplace discrimination and harassment is another difficult situation. Most managers know enough to refrain from obvious disparate treatment of employees. However, discrimination may be lurk under the surface and affect employment decisions.

Take for instance, an employer who generally allows flexible work schedules. One of the employees applies to take advantage of the policy, but management denies the request with a given excuse of lagging performance. At the same time, similarly situated employees who do not meet goals are allowed to take advantage of the policy. Is it the employee’s sexual orientation, race or gender affecting the decision? It can be difficult to find out and scary to file a complaint. Many again fear losing their job.

What is retaliation?

The most obvious type of retaliation is terminating an employee. The Missouri statute as it relates to workers’ compensation does not allow an employer to discriminate or discharge an employee for filing a workers’ comp claim. To successfully bring a claim, an employee must prove:

  • He or she was an employee before the injury
  • A workers’ comp claim was filed
  • The employer discharged or discriminated against the employee
  • A causal relationship existed between the workers’ comp filing and the employer discharge or discrimination

The last element may be the most difficult to prove. In some cases, it may be necessary to prove that the comp claim was the only reason for the adverse decision not simply a contributing factor.

Less obvious, employers that increase supervision and create intolerable working conditions prompting an employee to quit may also be liable for retaliation. This could be the case after an employee files a claim under the Missouri Human Rights Act.

If you are treated differently at the workplace after filing a workers’ compensation claim or a discrimination claim, seek the counsel of an experienced employment law attorney. Retaliation takes many forms and a lawyer can explain your rights and assist you to pursue available remedies.