An on-the-job injury is bad enough, but when your employer or coworkers harass you because of it -- that's adding insult to injury. Workers' compensation laws -- managed at the state level -- differ between states. This includes how claims get approved or not, when and how payments are made, return-to-work options, rehabilitation and permanent injury settlements along with laws about employer retaliation. If you get harassed at work because of an on-the-job injury, state and federal laws outside of workers' comp may also come into play.
Civil Rights Act
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act -- enacted in 1964 and modified several times since then -- defines unlawful harassment in the workplace. In addition to federal laws about workplace harassment, some states have adopted employment laws that echo the sentiment and spirit behind federal laws, as well as laws about retaliation at work for a workplace injury. As an employee, you have a right to a hostile-free work environment. Pervasive harassment by coworkers or your employer for a workplace injury falls under the category of discrimination due to a disability. Regardless of who harasses you at work, your employer can be held liable.
State Retaliation Laws
Some states have laws against retaliation by an employer for a workers' comp injury. In New York, employers cannot fire or discriminate against employees who filed or tried to file a workers' compensation claim. This also includes employees who might testify in a workers' comp case. In Illinois, for example, you cannot be harassed or fired for filing a workers' compensation claim. Federal government employees fall under different workers' comp laws.
Keep a Log
Before you file a complaint with your state's labor board, its workers' comp division or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, keep a log that includes dates and times of harassment, names of individuals and witnesses, if any. If you experience isolated incidents -- unless serious -- or petty comments about your injury, it may not be considered harassment. The EEOC defines harassment as follows: epithets, name-calling, insults, ridicule, mockery, intimidation, offensive jokes, slurs and pictures. Make certain you file a complaint in a timely manner, as you generally only have six months to file a complaint.
Workers' compensation laws prevent employees from filing lawsuits against their employers for a workplace injury. The workers' comp system -- based on a no-fault insurance system -- does not place fault or blame for the injury on the employer or employee. But when your employer or coworkers continually harass you because of your injury, the harassment itself may be cause for a lawsuit. To fully understand your rights and to find out if you have any recourse to stop the harassment, contact your state workers' comp department, its labor board or the EEOC.
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Harassment
- California Department of Industrial Relations: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Workers' Compensation for Employees
- Strong Law: Employer Retaliation against the Workers' Compensation Claimant
- State of California Department of Industrial Relations: How to File a Retaliation/Discrimination Complaint
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Disability Discrimination
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Time Limits for Filing a Claim
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Filing a Lawsuit
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.