North Carolina Court Discusses Retaliatory Termination for Seeking Workers’ Compensation Benefits

When someone suffers an injury on the job, they may worry about whether their employer will retaliate against them if they file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. This system is designed to ensure that you have the financial support you need to cope with your injury and inability to work following the injury or accident. The rules make it clear that an employer cannot treat an employee unfairly or unjustly because he or she has requested benefits. If you were injured at work, our knowledgeable team of Charlotte workers’ compensation lawyers is standing by to help you secure your right to benefits.

In a recent case, the plaintiff was reportedly employed as a police officer from February 2009 until he was terminated in January 2016. The plaintiff filed a civil action claiming that the termination was a retaliatory response to his claim for workers’ compensation benefits. As background, the police department received a grant to purchase two police motorcycles as long as they were used regularly. The plaintiff was hired to fill one of the motorcycle positions.

Sometime in 2015, Plaintiff’s supervisor noticed that the plaintiff was not using the motorcycle regularly. The plaintiff informed the supervisor that it was too hot that day. The supervisor later sent an email to the plaintiff instructing him to ride his motorcycle every day. One month later, the plaintiff was hospitalized for heat-related symptoms while riding his motorcycle at work. The plaintiff filed a claim seeking workers’ compensation benefits for this medical emergency.

According to evidence in the record, the plaintiff lied about why he was not riding his motorcycle. It was not due to the heat, but because he had been suffering from stomach issues. The police chief enforced a strict policy against lying. The city’s insurance carrier also suspected that the plaintiff was engaging in workers’ compensation fraud and had him surveilled while he was on leave following his claim for workers’ compensation benefits. The surveillance included videotape during the plaintiff’s vacation to Disneyland that showed him standing, walking, and riding rides for up to 12 hours. The city concluded that the plaintiff was engaging in workers’ compensation fraud.

The plaintiff eventually returned to work in an administrative capacity and was later transferred to a dispatch position. Due to his claimed symptoms, however, including fatigue and difficulties performing his job duties, the plaintiff’s doctor did not release him to full duty. The plaintiff was eventually terminated after an Internal Affairs investigation.

In order to prevail in his retaliatory action claim, the plaintiff needed to show that his discharge was caused by his good faith application for workers’ compensation benefits, among other things. This is often shown by proving a close temporal proximity between the application for benefits and the alleged retaliatory conduct. Here, the court concluded that summary judgment for the city was proper because four months had passed between the plaintiff’s application for benefits and his termination. Even assuming timing was not an issue, the evidence showed that the plaintiff had offered nothing more than speculation regarding whether the town was retaliating against him for seeking workers’ compensation benefits.

If you were hurt at work, it is critical that you are treated with the fairness and dignity that you deserve during this stressful time. Maurer Law has provided diligent and compassionate legal counsel to injured workers throughout North Carolina, including Charlotte. To schedule a free consultation call us at 1-844-817-8058 or contact us online to get started.