Every South Carolina business or company with four or more employees must carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover work-related injuries and illnesses. If you’re injured or become ill as a result of doing your job in the Charleston area, you may file a workers’ comp claim to cover:
- Your medical expenses
- Approximately two-thirds of your lost wages
- Vocational rehabilitation (in some cases)
- Death benefits (if you’ve lost a loved one to a workplace injury/illness)
If your claim is successful, you can collect benefits:
- Until you recover and return to your job
- Until you are given a light-duty job you can perform
- For the long-term or even for life if you’re disabled
Retaliation Against Your Charleston Workers' Compensation Claim Is Illegal
Some injured or ill employees hesitate to file workers’ comp claims because they fear their bosses will fire them or make things difficult for them at work. Your employer, however, may not legally fire you or retaliate against you in any way for filing a claim.
The business or company for which you work must keep you on as an employee until you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI), the stage at which your doctors feel you’ve recovered to the extent you’re going to. At that point, your employer must evaluate your ability to return to your previous job and make reasonable accommodations to help you do so by adapting your:
- Work conditions
If you cannot return to your previous position, your employer might offer you a light-duty job, which you must attempt to do to the best of your ability. If that job pays less than your previous job, workers’ comp might reimburse you for a portion of the difference between your previous and current salaries. If you can’t return to work at all, you’ll receive a disability rating and could be eligible to collect long-term benefits.
If your employer fires you in retaliation for filing a workers’ comp claim or for a false reason that you feel is disguised retaliation, consult an attorney right away. There may be remedies available to you within the workers’ comp system or in civil court.
Termination After Your Workers' Compensation Claim Is Approved
Once your workers’ comp claim is approved by your employer’s insurance company and you begin collecting benefits, you could lose your job or be laid off for legitimate reasons before you’ve fully recovered. If you’re an at-will employee with no contract, you might be legally terminated if your employer:
- Goes out of business
- Files bankruptcy
- Restructures or downsizes and eliminates your position
In such a case, your termination wouldn’t be related to your workers’ compensation claim. If your position is essential to your company’s staying in business, someone might have to be hired to do your job since you can’t—so your position might no longer be available to you when you’re ready to resume work. Even if you do have a contract, it might list circumstances under which you can be legally terminated.
If your employer can’t offer you your previous position or a light-duty job that accommodates your restrictions, then you might not have a job once your benefits run out. Losing your job or being laid off for such reasons should not, however, affect your workers’ comp benefits, which are provided by the insurance company to which your employer has already paid premiums to cover work-related injuries. Once your claim is approved, you should receive the benefits you’ve been awarded until you recover. The only possible exceptions are:
- Termination or layoff for disciplinary reasons
- Reaching MMI before you were legally terminated
An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you determine whether you’ve been laid off or fired for reasons that could affect your benefits.
Quitting Your Job While Receiving Workers’ Compensation Benefits
Once your claim is accepted and you’re receiving workers’ comp benefits, you could decide you don’t want to return to your old job after you recover. You might:
- Feel unsafe in the workplace
- Fear another injury
- Fear a retaliatory attitude on the part of your superiors
- Have a better job offer you want to accept
Whatever your reason for resigning, it shouldn’t affect your workers’ compensation benefits any more than being fired would. Your benefits are based on an injury/illness that occurred in the past, so your current/future job status has no effect on them. You should be able to collect the benefits you were granted until you recover. There are, however, a couple of exceptions:
- If you’re getting weekly disability benefits and are offered a light-duty job that accommodates your medical restrictions, your benefits can be terminated if you refuse that job.
- If your doctors feel you’re not likely to return to work again, and you have an unsettled claim for total permanent disability, quitting your job before the claim is settled puts your employer in a position to say you could’ve been accommodated with a light-duty job if you hadn’t quit. This could affect your claim.
If you’re considering quitting, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- If you intend to return to work for another employer, don’t leave your current job until you’re offered a new one.
- Unless you have a new job opportunity that won’t wait, don’t quit your current job before reaching MMI.
- If you have an open disability claim, don’t leave your current job until the claim is settled.
- Don’t be in a hurry to settle your claim, especially without consulting an attorney. Doing so gives the insurance company a reason to offer you a low award that might not cover your current and future medical expenses.
- If you take a lower-paying job while still receiving benefits, inform your attorney right away. You might have a chance of getting partial reimbursement for the difference between your former and current salaries.
- If you can’t perform the new job you’ve taken, you might be able to get your disability benefits reinstated with the help of a lawyer.
Have You Been Injured On The Job?
If you've been hurt at your job you need to speak with an experienced workers' compensation attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Charleston, South Carolina office directly at 843.488.2359 to schedule your free consultation. We are also able to meet clients at our Conway, Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, Mt. Pleasant, North Myrtle Beach or North Charleston office locations.