Can My Employer Retaliate Against Me for Filing a Federal Workers’ Compensation Claim?

federal workers compensation employer defense attorney usa

Getting injured in a workplace accident is never an enjoyable experience—not just because of the pain and suffering, lost wages, and medical bills you must face, but also because you fear retaliation if you file a federal workers’ compensation claim. Most states, but not all, have provisions prohibiting employers from retaliating when their workers file a claim. Unfortunately, the law dictating federal employees’ rights to workers’ compensation has no such provision. This means federal workers don’t have the same protection against workers’ compensation retaliation that other employees do.

Still, numerous laws prohibit other kinds of federal employer retaliation. Therefore, if your employing agency retaliates against you for filing a federal workers’ compensation claim, there may still be something you can do.

Why Might Employers Retaliate When You File for Federal Workers’ Compensation?

The more benefits an insurance plan pays out, the more expensive coverage becomes. This is true with all types of insurance, not just workers’ compensation. In addition, some employers are self-insured, meaning they assume the financial risk for providing benefits if their employees file a claim.

A federal employer faced with the prospect of rising monthly premiums or direct payments to cover medical bills and lost wages may be tempted to retaliate against employees who seek their rightful workers’ compensation benefits. This reaction may not be ethical, but it also isn’t too surprising.

Examples of Federal Workers’ Compensation Employer Retaliation

While employers rarely admit to retaliating against a worker, they may deviously seek retribution in numerous ways. You might hesitate to file a federal workers’ compensation claim because you’re afraid of:

  • Losing your job: You will already have to take time off to rehabilitate after your injury. The last thing you want is for your income stream to be threatened even further by retaliatory termination.
  • Demotion and pay cuts: Even if you aren’t fired, you might fear being moved to a lower position or having your wages cuts if you report being injured at work.
  • Poor performance reviews: You might worry that if your employer holds a grudge, you’ll receive unfair reviews, limiting your potential for future promotions and income increases.
  • Unwarranted disciplinary actions: You may fear your every action being unjustly scrutinized going forward, with the potential to receive disciplinary action you don’t deserve.

How to Prove Employer Retaliation

In non-federal employment situations, employees who experience workers’ compensation retaliation must demonstrate that the actions against them—from being denied a bonus they deserve to losing their job—are in direct response to filing a workers’ compensation claim. This is called “causation,” and it’s often the most disputed and difficult part of proving a retaliation claim. The injured employee is typically required to establish the following four elements:

  1. The injured employee was entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits under the law.
  2. The injured employee filed for workers’ compensation benefits after an incident or accident in the workplace.
  3. The employer took action against the injured employee after the claim was filed, which adversely affected their employment situation.
  4. The workers’ compensation claim motivated the employer to impose the action against the injured employee.

Typical employees, who are permitted to sue their non-federal employers, may have unique circumstances surrounding their case. Such factors determine whether the employer exhibited illegal discrimination. After all, an underlying legitimate reason could exist for terminating the employee or taking other adverse actions. For instance, the employee may have violated company policy, which led to their injury. These are the arguments an employer may use to defend against a retaliation claim.

However, illegal retaliation can often be inferred from the following:

  • Timing – How soon did the adverse action occur after the employer learned of the workers’ compensation claim?
  • Animus – Did the supervisor appear angry about the workers’ compensation claim?
  • Deviation from normal practices – Did the adverse action deviate from company policy or differ from how the employee was treated prior to filing the claim?
  • Changing explanations – Does the supervisor keep changing their story regarding why the adverse action occurred?
  • Pattern of adverse actions – How often have other employees experienced adverse effects after filing workers’ compensation claims?
  • Use of false evidence – Has the employer presented false evidence regarding the legitimacy of the workers’ compensation claim?

Protections Against Retaliation for Non-Federal Employees

Employees working for a company that participates in a workers’ compensation program can file a claim at any time. However, to be legally protected from retaliation, the claim must be truthful and filed in good faith. The state might not protect the employee from retaliation if the claim is knowingly false or fraudulent. In fact, there’s a risk of criminal prosecution for filing a claim in such a way.

Provided the claim is legitimate, the employee must still take certain actions to ensure protection against retaliation. These actions vary by state. Some laws require formal documentation of the workplace injury. Others offer protection as soon as the injured employee files a claim or makes known their intention to file a claim. Still others protect against retaliation the moment a worker sustains an on-the-job injury.

The best way for non-federal employees to make sure anti-retaliation laws apply to them is to promptly complete and submit the necessary claims documents after being injured. Then, if employees think they have grounds to sue their employer for damages, it’s wise to file retaliation claims as quickly as possible. After all, they only have a few weeks or months to take action, depending on where they live.

Are Federal Workers Protected from Retaliation Under the Law?

The short answer is no. The law that controls federal employee workers’ compensation—known as the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA)—does not allow federal employees to sue the US government for workers’ compensation retaliation matters. In fact, the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP), which administers FECA, does not accept any claims for punitive damages. In other words, federal employing agencies can’t be held legally liable for retaliating against an employee who files for federal workers’ compensation.

While the laws differ, you are not completely unprotected as a federal employee. Here are examples of prohibited federal employer retaliation:

  • Employers are not allowed to require employees to waive their right to claim compensation under FECA.
  • Workers may not be coerced into accepting jobs that could aggravate their injuries or cause re-injury.
  • Supervisors may not interfere with a FECA claim.

However, there’s a significant counterweight to these provisions—if you refuse to accept a reasonable job modification following your work injury, OWCP could terminate your FECA benefits. That’s a frightening proposition.

What Options Do Federal Workers Have?

If you can’t sue your federal employing agency for damages, what can you do? Here are some options:

  • Seek union protection: If you are a union member, you can ask a union officer to investigate your retaliation complaint and file a grievance on your behalf.
  • Claim the cost of psychological treatment: FECA provides workers’ compensation benefits for stress disorders caused by retaliation, even without legal proof of discrimination. So, if you are experiencing stress and anxiety, add the cost of counseling and other mental health services to your existing workers’ compensation claim. The supporting medical opinion should state that the stress and anxiety are the results of difficult working conditions that have arisen since filing your claim. You should know these are very difficult claims to prove even with good medical and factual evidence. Legal guidance is suggested if this is something you are thinking about.
  • File a new workers’ compensation claim: An alternative approach to the above suggestion is to file a new claim using Form CA-2 to declare your stress as a separate and distinct occupational injury resulting from your initial claim. Speak with a lawyer before taking this approach because approval may be more difficult than adding stress as a component to the initial claim.
  • File an EEOC complaint: You may be able to seek restitution for the retaliation you have experienced by filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) based on the Rehabilitation Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Congress passed these laws to ensure that a person’s disabilities can’t be used against them regarding their employment with the federal government or elsewhere.

Don’t Hesitate to File for Federal Workers’ Compensation Benefits

If you are a federal employee who has been injured at work, you have every right to request benefits that can help cover medical expenses and lost pay resulting from your injury. Rest assured that you have options if your employer takes any retaliatory actions.

Whether you need assistance filing a claim or your employer has retaliated against you, Aumiller Lomax can help. We are one of the nation’s few lawyers who focus exclusively on federal work injury cases. Over the years, our experienced team has helped more than 2,000 federal workers receive benefits, primarily through the FECA system. We’ll guide and empower you every step of the way, beginning with a free consultation. Give us a call today at 856-751-0440 or contact us online for help receiving the workers’ compensation you deserve.