For most people, workers’ compensation benefits are provided through an insurance plan purchased by their employer. Does that mean you need to have an employer to have workers’ compensation benefits? If you lose your job while getting workers’ comp, do you also lose those benefits, too?
In most situations, you should still be able to collect and utilize workers’ compensation benefits even if you lose the job that provided them. This seemingly unusual loophole is due to workers’ compensation being a policy that lasts until its time limit caps or until you reach your maximum medical improvement (MMI) and can work again. It is not a system that automatically ends when your employment does.
Disciplinary Firings & At-Will Employment
Disciplinary firings could complicate your workers’ compensation benefits. For example, if you were fired because you intentionally caused an accident that hurt yourself and others, then you could be ineligible for any further benefits. The burden of proving that your own intentional mistakes caused a workplace injury will rest on the insurance company, though, since workers’ comp is a no-fault system.
Workers’ compensation benefits also often require an employer to try to find a new work position that accommodates a worker’s new debilitations due to a workplace injury. For instance, a stockroom worker who suffers a back injury could be given a new seated position as an office assistant for the general manager. However, this benefit could be lost if you are employed at-will and your employer must or decides to eliminate eligible positions. Employers who hire at-will employees can downside and restructure as they see fit, and they can even decide to replace you entirely for virtually any reason, which means you might not have a job waiting for you by the time you are healthy enough to work again.
Employer Bankruptcy Shouldn’t Affect Your Benefits
Sometimes an employer has to shutter due to financial reasons and a bankruptcy filing. Employees who are getting workers’ compensation benefits from that employer should not be directly affected by an employer’s bankruptcy, though. Insurance companies provide workers’ compensation benefits, not employers. Maybe if your employer’s insurance company was going bankrupt, then your workers’ comp benefits could be interrupted. But even in such a situation, the bankruptcy court will usually require the insurer to set aside enough funds to care for current and pending claimants.
Did You Get Fired for Using Workers’ Comp?
One thing that your employer cannot do is fire you just for filing a workers’ compensation claim or receiving workers’ comp benefits. They can eliminate your position if they cannot find a way to bring you back into the company due to your injuries, but they cannot fire you for filing a claim or asking about filing one. In fact, if your employer jumps the gun and fires you after a workplace accident but before you have a chance to file, then you still have the opportunity to file a claim and seek benefits within the workers’ comp statute of limitations for your state.
The situation is going to be complicated, though, if your employer fires you before you can file for workers’ compensation or fires you because you did. To help take the stress and confusion out of your case, it is recommended that you connect with a local workers’ compensation attorney.