Employer cannot Retaliate against Employee for Workers’ Compensation Claim
Besides these whistleblower protections, there is also protection in Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Law that states:
440.205 Coercion of employees.—No employer shall discharge, threaten to discharge, intimidate, or coerce any employee by reason of such employee’s valid claim for compensation or attempt to claim compensation under the Workers’ Compensation Law.
To support an employment retaliation claim:
[A] plaintiff must prove the following three elements: 1) the plaintiff was engaged in protected activity; 2) the plaintiff was thereafter subjected by his employer to an adverse employment action; and 3) there is a causal link between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. In order to establish a claim under section 440.205, the employee’s pursuit of workers’ compensation need not be the only reason for a discharge.
Salus v. Island Hospitality Florida Management, Inc., 45 Fla. L. Weekly D103a (Fla. 4th DCA 2020) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
In Salus, a former employee filed a retaliatory discharge claim under Florida Statute s. 44.205 claiming he was terminated for filing a workers’ compensation claim. The employer argued, and the trial court agreed by granting summary judgment in favor of the employer, that there was no retaliatory discharge because the employee was terminated prior to filing the workers’ compensation claim. The Fourth District Court of Appeal held it was error to grant summary judgment in favor of the employer.
The employee sustained an injury prior to his termination and notified his employer of the injury. The employee also notified the employer that he was having trouble receiving treatment for the injuries and obtained the information he needed from the employer to file a claim for benefits. The employer fired the employee less than two weeks after the employee sustained the injury, but before the workers’ compensation claim for benefits had been filed.
The employer argued the termination had nothing to do with the workers’ compensation claim. Rather, the employer had evidence to support an incident where the employee became angry and threatened to fight a co-worker. Naturally, the employee disputed this incident.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal held that the fact that the employee did not formally file a workers’ compensation claim until after he was terminated did not deprive him of retaliatory discharge protection. The employee had effectively sought benefits by notifying his employer of the injury, the trouble he was having obtaining treatment, and obtained information he needed to submit a claim. An employer cannot circumvent an employee’s protection by terminating him prior to the employee formally filing a claim for worker’s compensation benefits.
Where, as here, [the employee] establishes a prima facie case by proving the protected activity and the negative employment action are not completely unrelated, the burden then shifts to the employer to proffer a legitimate reason for the adverse employment action. A plaintiff withstands summary adjudication at this stage either by producing sufficient evidence to permit a reasonable finder of fact to conclude the employer’s proffered reasons were not what actually motivated its conduct, or that the proffered reasons are not worthy of belief. In moving for summary judgment, the employer argued that it had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating the employee: that the employee threatened a coworker. However, the employee disputed this claim in his deposition and denied that he threatened a coworker. Thus, a genuine issue of material fact exists as to the reason for termination, precluding summary judgment.
Salus, supra (internal quotations and citations omitted).
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