Retaliation and Workers’ Compensation

Kayla Moreland , May 19, 2015

The Ohio Revised Code states that no employer shall discharge, demote, or take any punitive action against an employee because the employee filed a workers’ compensation claim. R.C. 4123.90. The elements of a retaliatory discharge require an employee to prove that (1) they were injured on the job; (2) the employee filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits; and (3) that the employee was discharged in contravention of R.C. 4123.90. Once the employee establishes each of these elements, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason for terminating the employee.

In a recent case, the Court of Appeals of Ohio granted an employer’s Motion for Summary Judgment, because the employee was unable to sufficiently prove that the employer was aware that a workers’ compensation claim had been filed prior to the employee’s termination. In Dragmen v. Swagelok Co., 2014-Ohio-5345 (2014), the employee injured himself while failing to follow the employer’s standard safety procedures. As such, he was placed in a work safety program to stress the importance of following safety procedures, and warned that repeat or additional violations could constitute further discipline, including termination. Id. at ¶8. The employee also filed a workers’ compensation claim, but did not inform his supervisors, and instead filed the claim through the employer’s third party administrator.

Three weeks after being placed in the employee safety program, the employee had a disagreement with a co-worker, which resulted in the employee pulling a chair out from underneath his co-worker. Id. at ¶ 10. The employee was terminated, and he filed a suit alleging that he was fired in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim. The employer filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, which was granted, because there was no evidence that the employee’s supervisors who made the decision to fire him were aware that the employee filed a workers’ compensation claim. Id. at 20.

Thus, “To be liable for retaliating against an employee for taking part in a protected activity, the employer must have knowledge of it.” Meyers v. Goodrich Corp., 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 95996, 2011-Ohio-3261 at ¶22. Moreover, even though circumstantial evidence can establish knowledge, it is not enough for an employee to simply assert that their employer’s supervisors generally have knowledge of the charges filed by employees. Id. As such, an employee must prove that their employer knew of their workers’ compensation claim, and fired them as a result of it in order to have a valid retaliation claim.

Source: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/8/2014/2014-ohio-5345.pdf
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