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Workers’ compensation cases can turn into discrimination cases

California’s workers’ compensation law is broad: Almost all employees and on-the-job injuries are covered. The injured worker doesn’t have to show that the employer did anything wrong in order to receive benefits. If everything works as it should, after an on-the-job injury, the benefits should cover the worker’s medical expenses and provide them with some income during the time they are unable to return to work.

Of course, often things don’t work as they should. Employers and their insurance carriers sometimes reject claims, or provide less money than the worker needs. Sometimes, the employee returns to work only to find that their employer is wrongfully discriminating against them due to their injury. Attorneys with experience in workers’ compensation and employment law can help workers protect their rights.

In some cases, a workers’ compensation dispute combines with other areas of worker protection, such as laws against discrimination and retaliation.

Just as California’s workers’ compensation law is broad, California’s laws against discrimination are some of the strongest in the nation. Under federal law, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a worker on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability or age. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act goes farther, making it illegal to discriminate based on all the factors listed under federal law, plus ancestry, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, gender identity and gender expression, sexual orientation and veteran status.

In the context of employment law, illegal retaliation is a negative action taken against a worker because the worker exercised their legal rights. For example, state and federal laws protect the rights of workers to properly report unsafe working conditions or illegal behavior in the workplace. An employer who retaliates against such a worker, by firing them or demoting them may be breaking the law.

In one scenario that happens from time to time, a worker is injured and files a workers’ compensation claim. After some dispute, the employer’s insurance provider provides workers’ compensation benefits. After recuperating from the injury, the employee returns to work, but now the employer starts cutting back their hours, demotes them to a lesser position, or even fires them. A case like this could reveal unlawful retaliation against the worker for exercising a legal right.

Another scenario that is fairly common has a worker returning to the job only to face disability discrimination. Under the law, the worker doesn’t necessarily get their old job back, but employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for a disabled worker.

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