Termination after injury, before filing for comp allows worker to sue
Case name: Sutton v. Tomco Machining, Inc., No. 2010-0670 (Ohio 06/09/11).
The Ohio Supreme Court held that a worker terminated after he sustained a work-related injury but before he filed a workers' compensation claim could sue his employer for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy.
What it means:
In Ohio, an injured worker can sue his employer for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy if the worker was terminated after he was injured on the job but before he filed a workers' compensation claim.
Summary: A worker for a machining company injured his back while disassembling a chop saw. He reported the injury to the company's president. Within an hour, the president terminated the worker. The president did not give the worker a reason for his termination, but he stated that it was not because of his work ethic or job performance or because he had broken any work rule or company policy. The worker sued the company for retaliation and wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. The Ohio Supreme Court held that the worker could pursue the wrongful discharge claim.
The court explained that the law does not expressly prohibit retaliation against injured workers who have not yet filed, instituted, or pursued a workers' compensation claim. The court said a gap existed in the law, and the worker's termination occurred in the gap. The parties disagreed as to whether public policy protected a worker in the gap.
The court found that the legislature did not intend to leave a gap in protection during which employers are permitted to retaliate against workers who might pursue workers' compensation claims. The gap was at odds with the basic provision of antiretaliation. There was a clear public policy prohibiting retaliatory employment actions against injured workers.
The court said the worker's remedies would be limited because workers' compensation provides limited, exclusive remedies. Allowing additional remedies would undermine the workers' compensation scheme, purpose, and operation, according to the court.
A dissenting judge opined that the majority "stretched" the statute and protected a worker from his employer's conduct that was "short of retaliation."
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
July 29, 2011
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