When Your Employer Becomes Hostile About Your Work Injury Claim, Be Sure to Document Everything
Good employers report their employees' injuries to the workers' compensation insurance carrier, and are patient and supportive while the claim progresses and the employee tries to heal. Unfortunately, however, there are a lot of employers out there who don't act like that. Instead, the moment one of their employees has a work-related injury, they begin to engage in a pattern of hostile conduct that is designed to undermine the claim, isolate the employee, and set the employee up for a termination where the he/she has no chance of collecting unemployment or workers' compensation.
I have seen it over and over. There are a lot of reasons for it. Often, the employer knows that - unless they get employee off of the payroll and off of workers' compensation - it is going to cost them money, and they just don't want to pay it. Sometimes, it is a little more complicated. But, regardless of the motivation, it is important to understand how you can best preserve your rights in a situation where your employer has committed to creating a hostile work and claim environment.
I practice in Abilene, Texas, so most of what I will say in this blog is Texas-specific. And in Texas, the first thing you should understand is that - because Texas is an employment at will state - there may not ultimately be anything you can do to preserve your job once your employer is committed to making things as difficult as possible for you. Still, there are some things you can do to push back at an employer who has become hostile because of your injury. For the rest of this post, I am going to focus on only one of those things, but it is the most important one.
By far, the most important thing you should understand in this situation is the importance of documenting your conversations and actions. If you have an employer who is well-versed in handling situations like this, your employer will likely be documenting everything that happens that is favorable to the employer and neglecting the documentation of anything that happens which is favorable to you. For example, if you try to report a claim, and your employer doesn't want it reported, the employer won't make a record of anything you said. On the other hand, if you show up late to work because of a doctor's appointment that you attended without your supervisor's permission, it will almost certainly go in your record to help set you up for a termination.
Down the road, the people who will decide your workers' compensation and/or unemployment benefit cases will look to the documents to find the "story" of what happened. As such, if your employer has good documentation supporting its story, and you don't, you will be at a severe disadvantage. You should assume that - in a month or two - everyone's attitude will be that "if it wasn't documented, then it didn't happen."
The solution here is to make sure you are documenting things yourself. Once you have been injured, make sure you take at least these three steps: (1) notify your client, in writing, that you have been injured on the job, (2) if the injury has caused you to miss one full day of work or more, tell your employer, in writing, that you were gone on a particular day because your work-related injury, and (3) ask your employer to report your injury to your workers' compensation carrier. Likewise, if you get accused of something at work that is incorrect, make sure your side of the story is documented with the employer.
What kind of writing is acceptable? You can write a note on a piece of paper and give it to the employer, or you can send a letter to the employer with this content. If you have an email address, email is also an appropriate way of handling this. I have also had some clients successfully use a text message. Always keep a copy of everything that you deliver so that you can show it to administrative judges and other officials at later points in the dispute.
The critical thing is to not let your employer control the story because they have selectively documented the events relating to your injury and employment.