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Workers’ Compensation Claim or Wrongful Termination Suit—Take Your Pick

Toby Graham /
two arrows on wood with feet standing in middle

What would you rather deal with: a workers’ compensation claim or a wrongful termination lawsuit?

An automotive dealership in Illinois appears to have chosen the latter. Well, perhaps “chosen” is the wrong word—the company probably didn’t opt for a legal battle, but it’s not clear they took many steps to avoid one, either.

The Madison County Record reports that a woman is suing her former employer, Tri Ford Inc., for allegedly firing after she suggested the possibility of filing a workers’ compensation claim. Prior to her termination, Chelsea Marinacci had been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. She contends that within a week of discussing the issue and a workers’ compensation claim, she was let go. The lawsuit goes on to state that Tri Ford did not provide a reason or termination paperwork.

Now, Marinacci is seeking $50,000 in compensatory damages, as well as roughly half a million dollars in punitive damages.

Although there are details about the case we don’t yet know, employers looking to avoid a similar lawsuit can glean a few general takeaways:

  • Have an open dialogue with employees about possible workers’ compensation claims.
    Contrary to what many employers believe, open communication about workers’ compensation tends to discourage rather than encourage claims. When someone mentions a medical issue, demonstrate that you value the employee and care about their well-being. A sympathetic ear can make a big difference in avoiding a claim or lawsuit.
  • Discuss the workers’ compensation process with the employee, so they are fully informed and know what to expect.
    Employers are generally required to provide information about workers’ compensation once a claim is filed, but there’s no reason to wait until then to cultivate trust and transparency around the topic.
  • Document all meetings, medical reports, and correspondences, as well as any medically-related absences the employee has taken.
    The more you document, the better prepared you’ll be in the event of a legal dispute.
  • If you terminate an employee, be sure you are on safe legal ground for the termination.
    Plan ahead—work with your legal counsel to review cases that could be viewed as non-compliant with federal and state laws.
  • Be sure to keep detailed records whenever you terminate an employee. Documentation proves that termination was made for a good cause, and that all managers are trained on lawful termination procedures.

Terminating an employee is never easy. But if you’re not careful, a bad day can develop into something much worse. Learn HR experts’ tips for handling “the talk” effectively and with minimal liability.

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