Who Has Jurisdiction Over Workers’ Comp Retaliation Claims?
Workers’ compensation was established as a no-fault system that allows employees to get compensation for work-related injuries and safeguards employers from civil litigation for failing to maintain a safe workplace environment. It is, theoretically, a win-win system for both parties, but there are cases when an employer tries to punish an employee who has filed a workers’ comp claim. However, California has strict laws prohibiting workers’ comp retaliation. A recent California Court of Appeals decision gave the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) the exclusive right to make judgments in all retaliation disputes.
The question of jurisdiction centered around a charge of retaliation brought by a Mercy Medical Center housekeeper who filed a workers’ compensation claim after injuring her back. Several months later, the Medical Center fired her on charges of check fraud, inappropriate behavior at work and falsifying a timecard. The employee attempted to sue the Medical Center in state court for violating Section 132a of the California Labor Code. The Court of Appeals ruled that the WCAB was an adequate forum for resolving retaliation disputes.
If this case had gone to the WCAB, both parties would have presented evidence. If it turned out that the employee had violated company policies after she returned to work after her injury, the case would have been dismissed. However, if the termination had been an act of retaliation, the Medical Center would have faced serious consequences, including:
- Misdemeanor criminal charge
- Mandatory rehiring of employee
- 50 percent increase in the compensation award (up to $10,000)
- Compensation for lost wages
- Compensation for costs and expenses (up to $250)
Every California employee has the right to be compensated for injuries sustained while performing a job function — without fearing intimidation or retaliation. If you suspect that your employer is discriminating against you because you filed a workers’ comp claim, speak with a qualified California workers’ comp attorney immediately about the best options for protecting your legal rights.