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Our office regularly encounters misconceptions when new clients contact us after being fired for getting hurt at work. This is understandable: law is always complex, and employment law is a notoriously complex area of law. Below are a few of the common confusions encountered by wrongfully terminated employees.
FALSE. An injured worker files a Claim for Compensation with the Division of Workers’ Compensation—not the court. This claim offers the hurt employee limited recovery: medical treatment, time-off work benefits, and monetary awards for permanent disability. There is no redress for getting fired. To recover for this, a separate suit must be filed. This suit is filed with the court, just like a lawsuit arising from a car wreck or slip-and-fall.
FALSE. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) investigate almost every type of discrimination in employment. However, adverse treatment based upon whistleblowing (reporting criminal activity) and the exercise of work comp rights is not investigated by these agencies. Instead, a terminated employee can immediately file a lawsuit after being fired.
Though this may seem like a negative, it actually offers two distinct advantages over discrimination claims that must go through the EEOC/MCHR. First, these suits can be filed directly in court, without the six month waiting period the EEOC/MCHR impose. Second, work comp retaliation cases are not imposed to the strict time limitations of other discrimination cases. A disability claim has three time limits that must be met to successfully file suit in court: (1) a filing is made with the EEOC/MCHR within 180 days of being fired; (2) the civil suit is filed in court within 90 days of being given the appropriate documentation by the EEOC/MCHR; and (3) the suit is filed within two years of the firing. Work comp retaliation cases need only be filed within five years of the firing.
FALSE. Workers’ compensation is the exclusivity remedy for physical injuries that occur while working. This means that any other lawsuits that could have been raised to redress such injuries are not available to an injured employee—subject to very limited exceptions. One of these exceptions, however, is not a claim for wrongful discharge. An employee’s pain and suffering, caused by a work-related injury, is simply outside of what a jury can hear for a retaliatory discharge claim. However, the emotional turmoil cause by being fired is recoverable. In fact, it may well be a large portion of a wrongful discharge claim.
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