Termination linked to advocating for injured workers doesn't violate policy
Case name: Ballalatak v. All Iowa Agriculture Assoc., No. 08-1588 (Iowa 04/16/10).
Ruling: The Iowa Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of a security supervisor's wrongful discharge claim.
What it means: In Iowa, there is no public policy that protects from termination an at-will employee who advocates internally for the workers' compensation claim of a fellow employee.
Summary: After being involved in a work-related car accident, two workers called the claimant -- a security supervisor -- at home to report the accident. The claimant participated in a meeting with a general manager, the two injured employees, and another supervisor to discuss the incident. The injured employees later told the claimant they had been informed their claims would not be covered even though they were told the opposite during the meeting. The claimant called the general manager to discuss his concerns and allegedly became so agitated and insubordinate during the conversation that the general manager fired him. He then sued the employer, claiming that his termination violated public policy. The Iowa Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of the suit, finding that "no public policy protects supervisors or coemployees from termination for aiding injured employees in claiming workers' compensation benefits."
The claimant argued that the public policy that protects employees who pursue workers' compensation benefits should extend to supervisors who advocate on behalf of those employees. He also contended that as the injured workers' supervisor he was required to keep an open line of communication with his supervisors and was simply relaying concerns that the employer might be violating the law.
The court found that the claimant's actions were not protected by "a clearly expressed public policy." It noted that while the Iowa Legislature seemed to understand the "public policy implications in choosing to protect employees other than the aggrieved employee" in the workers' compensation arena, it chose to protect only the aggrieved employee.
The court also rejected the claimant's assertion that he was fired because he told the general manager that the workers might contact an attorney to protect their rights. It explained that Iowa law does not protect an employee "who asserts that other employees may contact an attorney regarding their workers' compensation rights." There was no evidence that the employer prevented the workers from consulting an attorney or that it would have fired them had they chosen to do so.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
July 22, 2010
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