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Wrongful Termination
of Injured Workers
By: Dennis M. Seaman, Attorney

Dennis Seaman & Associates

No Ohio employee can be fired for filing a claim for injuries sustained while working. The retaliatory discharge statute, Ohio Rev. Code 4123.90, mandates that "No employer shall discharge, demote, reassign, or take any punitive action against any employee because the employee filed a claim."

Until recently, this statute had a very limited application. The prior cases restricted the application of the statute to only cases where workers were fired because they filed a claim. Crafty employers cleverly circumvented the law by immediately terminating workers prior to the claim being filed.

Several lawsuits basing the issue on the public policy of protecting injured workers against unfair, immoral, and egregious acts of employers helped somewhat. However, a huge legal loophole remained wherein employers could legally terminate injured workers.

All an employer had to do was show lack of malice. The statement that "I had to hire someone to replace the injured worker in order to get the work done" was enough to defeat the statute. Absenteeism became a legal reason for termination.

Recently, the Ohio Supreme Court in the Coolidge case expanded the application of the statute, finally giving some real job protection to injured workers. As a result of this case, employers cannot use absenteeism as a legitimate reason for termination.

Coolidge held that "An employee who is injured on the job and is unable to work as a result thereof may not be terminated by his or her employer because of their inability to perform their work duties. The discharge of a worker while disabled is a wrongful discharge in violation of public policy".

The court also protected injured workers from the trumped up employer charges used so cleverly in the past to defeat the purpose of the statute. No longer can an injured employee be terminated because his employment agreement contains clauses permitting termination for violation of an absenteeism attendance policy.

No longer can employers use sham excuses to justify termination. Employers had previously been permitted to terminate employees who failed to continuously provide notice of their ongoing condition or provide burdensome needless documents. The court held that employers are actually actively involved in every aspect of a worker's claim and are continuously aware of his or her condition and status, and the law will not permit employers to set such traps for injured workers.

This case has special significance for working seniors whose long years of service usually entitle them to costly insurance coverage and higher wages. The employer can no longer replace them with younger, cheaper employees. Ohio's injured workers, as a result of the Coolidge case, are now free to exercise their rights without fear of employer retaliation.

Ohio's trial lawyers are still battling to further the protections of the retaliatory firing statute. A recent lower court ruling in Franklin County further extended employee protection.

In this case the injured worker was terminated with the right to reclaim her job. However, all her benefits such as health insurance were terminated. The court expanded Coolidge and held that matters such as an employee's rights to group health insurance, group life insurance, pension rights, and other similar benefits inherently belong to the worker; taking these benefits away by involuntary termination is a significant degradation and, in effect, the employer extorts an employee's involuntary resignation by threatening to cancel benefits. This court held that this amounts to an illegal firing.

These cases would, in my opinion, also protect injured workers from the employer discharging, demoting, reassigning, or taking other punitive actions against them.

If you or any of your friends or relatives feel that you have been victims of such actions by an employer and would like more information regarding the same, kindly contact me for a free consultation at (216) 696-1080 or Toll Free at 800-593-1080 to determine if your claim has merit.




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