Can you be fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim in Montana?
Most Montana employers must carry workers’ compensation insurance, which will provide you money for lost wages and cover your medical costs if you get hurt while at work.
But perhaps you are worried that if you get hurt and file a workers’ compensation claim your employer will fire you or find some other way to penalize you. You might understandably fear that this could leave you injured, with no job, and with no way to cover your monthly bills and medical expenses.
It may comfort you to know that:
Montana’s employment laws regarding wrongful termination address this situation specifically, and there are things you can do if you got hurt at work and then got fired.
In this article, we’ll provide a summary of Montana’s relevant employment laws, find out how workers’ compensation insurance works, what to do if you got hurt at work then got fired, and some things you should know to support your case if you want to bring a successful wrongful termination lawsuit against your former employer.
Montana’s employment and workers’ compensation laws
Both the federal government and the state of Montana require companies to carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover any work-related accidents or injuries. Montana statute 39-71-105 (Declaration of Public Policy) explains the workers’ compensation system’s mission and purpose as follows:
“An objective of the Montana workers’ compensation system is to provide, without regard to fault, wage-loss and medical benefits to a worker suffering from a work-related injury or disease… A worker’s removal from the workforce because of a work-related injury or disease has a negative impact on the worker, the worker’s family, the employer, and the general public. Therefore, an objective of the workers’ compensation system is to return a worker to work as soon as possible after the worker has suffered a work-related injury or disease.”
In summary, employers in Montana must obtain workers’ compensation insurance to cover any employee who suffers from a work-related illness or injury, and it does not matter if the employer or the employee is responsible—benefits must be provided regardless of fault.
For the benefit of both the employee and employer, the state aims to help the injured employee recover their health and return to work as soon as possible. Employers should be able to provide this coverage to their employees, and upon making a claim, employees should be able to get benefits promptly.
Additionally, Montana’s labor code 39-2-904 covers the elements of wrongful discharge. It states that a discharge is wrongful if it was in retaliation, not for good cause, the employer violates its own written personnel policy, or the employer terminated an employee after a successful probation period or did not establish a probation period and used this as a reason to fire the employee.
In short, Montana law says that an employer cannot fire you for filing a workers’ compensation claim if you become injured. If they do so, the law considers this a retaliatory termination.
While this action is illegal, unfortunately retaliatory termination is not always easy to prove.
How workers’ compensation insurance works
Workers’ compensation provides a few basic benefits to employees, including reimbursement for medical costs, temporary or long-term disability benefits, and reimbursement for lost wages. (Notably, it doesn’t NOT provide compensation for non-economic damages like pain and suffering.)
Employers must pay for a workers’ compensation insurance policy that provides coverage specific to the number of workers they have and the type of jobs they perform. If an employee becomes injured on the job, the insurance company will investigate and decide whether or not the employee should receive monetary compensation and/or other benefits.
If you get injured on the job, you must report your injury to your employer as soon as possible but no later than 30 days. Seek medical attention immediately and follow your doctor’s specific orders, then file your workers’ comp claim.
To file, you must complete and submit a First Report of Injury (FROI) form. Give this form to your employer or their workers’ comp insurance company to ensure that you aren’t denied benefits. You only have 1 year to complete and file this report. Stay on top of the process because your claim can be denied just because you missed a deadline.
If your claim is denied, you have options available to you, such as mediation or an appeal. You may need to hire a workers’ compensation attorney to help you work through this detailed legal process.
What to do if you are fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim
If you file a workers’ comp claim, your employer cannot expressly fire you for doing so. Some unscrupulous employers don’t want their insurance rates to go up and may take illegal actions against you for their own gain.
If you feel that your employer has retaliated against you for filing a claim, you should contact a workers’ comp attorney as soon as possible.
Make a point to document the following information to provide to an attorney:
- Doctor’s visit notes and proof that you complied with their recommended treatment
- Appointment dates and confirmation that you attended your appointments
- Evidence that you kept your employer informed of your progress and the claim process
If you have done everything you were supposed to do yet still got fired, seek legal help right away. Don’t just accept it. Fight for the benefits that you deserve.
Additionally, never avoid or put off filing a claim because you fear your employer’s retaliation. The workers’ compensation system exists to help overcome your financial burden so that you can recover and get back to work as soon as possible. Take advantage of this benefit so that you can focus on getting back to full health.
Proving wrongful (retaliatory) termination
If your employer terminates you before, during, or after you file a workers’ compensation claim without good cause, you might have a retaliatory discharge or wrongful termination case. This is because Montana is not an at-will employment state, meaning there must be “good cause” to terminate an employee after the established probationary period.
However, a discharge is not always considered retaliatory just because a workers’ compensation claim was filed.
In some cases, an employee may have had poor work performance leading up to the accident that warranted termination, or the company could be struggling financially and needs to lay off employees to reduce its workforce.
It’s important to speak with a Montana workers’ compensation attorney who can help determine if:
- You were eligible for workers’ comp coverage
- You filed a claim or otherwise started the process of getting compensation
- Your employer fired, threatened to fire, and/or took some other action against you
- Your termination directly resulted from you starting the workers’ comp claim process
Also, know that if you are receiving workers’ compensation benefits and are fired, your medical costs and disability benefits should still be provided to you until your doctor says that you have recovered enough to return to work.